International Week: Bringing Students Together

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This week, Ohio University celebrates its student diversity with International Week.  In addition to the brightly colored world flags displayed around campus, the annual weeklong celebration also includes a foot tasting, an art display, and opportunities to meet people from different cultures.

The various events are organized by several of OU's international groups including the International Student Union, The Office of Study Abroad, International Week Committee, Student Senate, and Residential Housing.

International Week events encourage diversity and travel.  Director of the Office of Study Abroad, Catherine Marshall, said, "International Week is an opportunity to highlight the cultures, the heritages, the people that make up Ohio University." 

Since the early 1920s, Ohio University's campus has offered numerous international programs.  "International has had an impact on Ohio University for a very long time." Mashell said.  Since the first international student came to OU in 1895 from Tokyo, Ohio University is now home to students from over 100 different nations.

For many international students, merging cultures with their American classmates is a challenge.  "I don't care if they're all in the same club or fraternal organization or from the same country or continent," Marshall said, "If you see a group of students and you don't necessarily see yourself in that group you have to step out of your comfort zone to find commonalities."

International graduate student Shamim Akhtar admits, "All of my friends are Indian.  I have some American friends, but all of my good friends are Indian."  Akhtar came to the U.S. from India 4 years ago to study physics.  "The language barrier was the most difficult part," Akhtar explains, "all the different accents." 

This was the first year that Akhtar participated in International Week festivities.  "It's a good chance to make connections and mingle," Akhtar said, " A lot of American students come."

One American student who takes full advantage of OU's international opportunities is graduate journalism student Audry Bonfig.  Although this is her first international week, Bradford participates regularly in the Bollywood Dance club. "I have a good time learning about other cultures!" Bradford said.

For most American students, making contact with International students can be just as challenging as it is for international students to branch out. "It's hard because a lot of international students are more shy," Bradford said, "It makes it easier when people are open." 

"It's easy to hang out with someone who understands you but they do segregate themselves." Outgoing international student Andres Olieari said.  Olieari came to the U.S. from Columbia 7 years ago and studies history pre-law.  Unlike some, Olieari embraces his new American culture.  He said, "When I came here, I didn't want to be segregated and only hang out with the Hispanic kids.  I want to live like an American."

International Week offers a way for students to break free from the confines of their social circles and meet people from a different culture.  "There’s a big population that doesn't see it, but the people that do go understand the different cultures better after the events." Oierari said. 

The conclusion of International Week is widely thought of as the best part of the event.  "I don't know any school that has an event like the International Street fair."Krista McCallum Beaty, the Director of the Center for International Studies, said. 

The Saturday street fair raps up the week's events, turning Court Street into a world map.  37 groups will be represented including cultural groups from Malaysia, Taiwan, Oman, Korea, Africa, and India.  In addition to whatever food or product the different stations are selling, the groups are required to have a free cultural activity for attendees to enjoy.

McCallum Beaty compared the street fair to the World Cup, "The world is here in Athens." she said, "Visible, tangible culture brings people together."