University of Iowa international students use the ‘buddy’ system

From The Gazette

Tippie Buddies
A group from International Buddies at Tippie out for a meal at Clinton Street Social Club last semester

IOWA CITY — With international enrollment continuing to grow, the University of Iowa is looking for ways to bridge the cultural and academic gap for foreign students while also capitalizing on the global perspective they bring to campus.

Enter the UI’s new international pairing programs, which act like “buddy systems” for foreign students wanting more interaction with American culture and domestic students interested in expanding their world view.

The UI pairing initiatives include a new “Friends Without Borders” program that matches first-year international students with domestic students and an “International Buddies at Tippie” program specific to the Tippie College of Business.

The Tippie program came first, launching in the 2014 spring semester with 112 total students or 56 international-domestic student pairs. The Friends Without Borders program, which is open to all incoming international students regardless of major, is new this semester.

That program — which has about 200 total students, or 100 matches — connected new international students with their U.S. counterparts via email over the summer. Upon arrival to campus in August, the pairs met during an initial mixer, where they were encouraged to continue meeting on their own time throughout the year.

The Tippie program, which is open to both business and pre-business undergraduate students, is organized by semesters instead of full academic years. Its kickoff event, where buddies will meet for the first time, is planned for tonight in the Pappajohn Business Building.

Participation has increased 46 percent over last semester, with 164 students involved this fall, making up 82 pairs, according to Jennifer Blair, assistant director of global community engagement at the Tippie College of Business.

“That is one of the most impressive things — we have not had to do aggressive marketing,” Blair said. “Word spread really fast.”

During tonight’s event, student pairs will be given flexible guidelines on how to make the most of the program. Suggestions include meeting five to six times during the semester and attending optional social events.

The college has partnered with local businesses, like the Java House and Yotopia Frozen Yogurt, to provide discounts to buddies who come in together. There will be competitions for partners who post the most pictures on social media — all with the goal of creating a more assimilated global community on campus.

“We have gotten great feedback,” Blair said.

Domestic students have reported “eye-opening” experiences about other cultures and family values, while international students have appreciated the help breaking through American social circles and getting to know a domestic student and the culture.

“Things like football and Thanksgiving … seem so mysterious to them,” she said. “This dispelled some of the mystery.”

UI senior Jessica Pawelski, 22, is a finance and entrepreneurial management major in the Tippie College of Business and found herself volunteering for the buddy system last semester after getting to know international students through a separate leadership program.

She started tentatively by meeting with her partner, UI senior Yijun Huang of China, for casual “dates” over coffee. Eventually, they began going out for dinner and spending more time just hanging out. They would talk about families and studies and cultural norms and food, Pawelski said.

“We were basically just friends,” she said.

Huang educated Pawelski on China’s one-child policy, and Pawelski said she helped Huang network for classes and connect to community resources.

They both enjoyed cooking and shared tips and ideas — although the language barrier sometimes posed a challenge.

“She was trying to explain asparagus to me, and I didn’t understand,” Pawelski said. “And they apparently cook chicken a lot with Coke — I didn’t know that.”

Pawelski said she was nervous about getting involved. What if she couldn’t understand her partner? What if she did something to offend?

“But it really has changed my experience at the university,” she said. “I’m very grateful we have programs like this.”

UI international student numbers still are being finalized, but Blair said about 900 international students are in the Henry B. Tippie College of Business or declared as pre-business. A total of 4,075 students — both domestic and international — qualify as business or pre-business, and Blair said the goal is to continue growing the buddy program.

“I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be a lot bigger,” she said. “There is no reason we couldn’t do this for every international student.”

Total international student numbers at the university reached 4,049 last year, up 88 percent from the 2,153 in 2007.

If you go:

•What: The UI Tippie College of Business’ “International Buddies at Tippie” program

•When: 4 to 5 p.m. Friday

•Where: Pappajohn Business Building, ground floor gallerias, 21 E. Market St. on the UI campus

 

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