New initiative seeks to forge staff connections with international students

By

Mary Beth Faller

Every year, thousands of international students come to Arizona State University to earn a degree and absorb some American culture.

But many never experience one of the most iconic American traditions: the family dinner.

So ASU is launching an initiative to encourage staff, faculty and even community members to befriend international students, invite them to dinner and let them see how typical Americans live.

“We know there are a lot of programs at ASU that connect students with students, but we felt there was a piece missing,” said Drew Ross, senior program coordinator of the International Students and Scholars Center at ASU.

“We also know that around 80 percent of international students never enter a U.S. household during their time here.”

Sun Devil Global Connections is an effort to change that. The center will sponsor a barbecue on Oct. 20 so staff, faculty and community members can meet international students they might like to hang out with.

“The idea is that staff members and students will come together in an informal atmosphere and we would provide some icebreakers and an opportunity to meet and greet, but we wanted these connections to happen organically,” Ross said. The barbecue will include food, music, games and icebreakers for everyone to meet each other.

ASU has more than 10,000 international students, with about 4,000 from China and 3,000 from India, so it’s easy for the students to spend free time with their peers.

“We want to push them to take advantage of learning about a new culture while they’re here,” Ross said.

The vision for the initiative is to have staff, faculty or community members get together with international students twice a semester, and hopefully invite them for an informal dinner at least once. Other get-togethers could be on campus or at a free or low-cost local event such as a movie or hiking.

Ross said the intent is not for the staff to pay for everything for the student or to otherwise become responsible, but for the visitors to experience how typical Americans live. The staff member would provide social support and be another resource for answering questions about ASU.

Roger Lurie, who retired earlier this year from his position as executive director of enrollment service information systems, has befriended several international students over the years.

“I can only imagine what it’s like for an international student being halfway across the world and coming to Phoenix and not knowing anybody and not knowing the culture,” he said.

He and his wife, Barbara Trapido-Lurie, a research professional at ASU, became friends with a student from India several years ago — and then years later, welcomed his niece when she attended ASU. They invited the young woman and her friend to Thanksgiving dinner.

“I remember that I realized that they were vegetarian, so I had to run out and got a tofurkey,” he said. “Everyone loved it. There were no leftovers.”

Lurie befriended a Chinese student earlier this semester, and when they met for lunch, he described Halloween to her.

“It’s an opportunity to bridge some of those gaps, learn about their culture and impart some our culture on them,” he said.

The dinners don’t have to be fancy.

“If it’s hot dogs and macaroni and cheese — I’ve done that,” said Rik Boberg, an ASU staffer who has hosted international students for years.

“Don’t do anything out of the ordinary. You don’t want them to think you have cake and balloons every night.

“You might want to impress them, but it’s not about that. It’s about showing them,” added Boberg, design manager for enrollment services communications at ASU.

Boberg and his wife, Lisa Wolford, have hosted young people for the past 12 years in their Tempe home as part Global Launch, ASU’s English-immersion program for international students. They’ve had 43 students from seven countries stay with them and have kept in touch with many. They are even attending the graduation of one student in Japan.

While he and his wife find great fulfillment in being surrogate families for a few months, he said that simply spending a few hours with international students is of great value.

“We had a birthday party for one student, and we ended up with 50 from 18 countries and they each brought food native to their country,” he said.

“We love sitting around the table and laughing together. It’s a time to talk things through, and that’s where you get that exchange of cultures and ideas.”

Fall 2017 Barbecue

What: The free Sun Devil Global Connection event will feature food, music, games and icebreakers designed to allow ASU staff, faculty and community members to meet international students.

When: 3:30–5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20.

Where: The Student Services Building lawn, Tempe campus.

Details: RSVP here. Find more information about the program here.

 

Top photo: Monica Bedoya Usuga, who is from Colombia, talks to international students at the weekly Coffee and Conversation Hour at the International Students and Scholars Center, where she works as an office assistant. Usuga studies business communications. Photo by Anya Magnuson/ASU Now