There are seldom instances more difficult and life-altering than those in which you feel like a fish out of water. Regardless of whether you’re a salmon, pumpkinseed, clownfish or guppy, when you are taken from your home you not only feel at a disadvantage, but uncomfortable as well. As human beings, we often encounter situations incredibly similar to those of these gill-bearing, aquatic animals.
Leaving home and embarking on a life-changing journey to another country is far from a simple decision. The language, food, culture and lifestyle are usually completely foreign, so adaptation becomes a key tool in the everyday repertoire. Those who know what I speak of have either studied abroad or are one of the many international students who have chosen to make Springfield College their temporary home away from home.
The international student program here at Springfield College has been quite a successful endeavor to say the least. Led by International Center Director and Professor of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Deborah Alm, the program already includes 115 students and scholars from an array of countries. Countries which include but are not limited to Haiti, Canada, China, Albania, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia. Not limited to undergraduates, Alm and the International Center have been able to include graduates, interns and even visiting professors to the ranks of Alden Street, and their efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Communications/Sports Journalism Professor Marty Dobrow has taken aim at alleviating the inadvertent natural gap between domestic and international students the best way he knows how – with the power of writing.
Dobrow incorporated an interesting assignment into his Advanced Journalism class curriculum. Not only meant to fortify young journalists’ skills in the process of contacting sources, conducting interviews, taking notes, peer editing and producing the best version of someone else’s story as possible, the international student profile is meant to, in turn, bring our campus closer.
My primary focus was the Saudi students’ experience on campus as well as our class’ journey in writing these profiles. We were left with friends in unexpected places and the honor of telling the incredible stories of those who were thrilled to find out we wanted to know more about them, their homes and their time here at Springfield College.
Of the 115 total international student population, 43 of them hail from Saudi Arabia. They typically hear about Springfield College from an agent, word of mouth via friends and family currently studying here, or on a list of programs provided by their government. Aside from our school, the students do have other options.
“There are many English programs approved by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM) that they can attend,” said Alm. “For Emergency Medical Services Management, they may look at programs in Utah, Missouri or other states. We have a number of transfers from those programs.”
Some of the educational doors to be opened don’t even require these students to leave home. King Saud University is a huge school in Saudi Arabia, and ARAMCO offers some alternative options as well. The allure of Springfield College lies in both the strength of the EMSM program and the fact that the word spread how welcoming our community is.
Rami Abakami, one of the Saudi students here as an EMSM major, recalled a pretty interesting memory regarding how he ended up joining the program. After asking him if he played any soccer he told me, “I tear my ACL two times. The first time, I told this American guy in the ambulance about Springfield College and he said he heard it was good school.” He can’t put his all into soccer anymore, but that was a happy coincidence that helped lead him here.
The experiences of the Saudi students are going rather well and Alm is hopeful that they are adjusting to social life despite some of them choosing to live off campus. Some of the students prefer cooking their own food, smoking freely if they so choose, and having a nice space to invite friends and family to. The social life isn’t the only aspect that calls for adaptation, but the schoolwork as well.
As Alm pointed out, “the academics are a big adjustment for many of them as our education system and assessment system is quite unfamiliar to them. We are helping with both the social and academic acculturation as best as we are able.”
It’s funny she mentions the students preferring to cook their own food. One night I was sitting with Rami in his living room in the suites with a television show I’ve never seen before paused on his laptop and I asked what his least favorite part of life on campus was. In response, he turned toward the kitchen, motioned toward a pile of dishes in the sink and told me with a laugh, “Cheney. We cook here all the time, can’t you tell?”
Alm is pleased with how well the program is working, specifically pointing out the wonderful instructors in the English program and assistance from the Academic Success Center in providing both academic help and conversation partners. It also makes her happy when the students take part in intramural sports like soccer and participate in campus activities. As far as any improvements she likes to see happen, she “would like more meaningful friendships to develop between the international students and domestic students, regardless of nationality,” a goal very similar to Dobrow’s.
For domestic and international students as well as Springfield College as a whole, the international program is beneficial to everyone. These students are essentially studying abroad, so they get the same kind of experience as students who travel abroad from the U.S. do in getting to learn about a country differently than the way that media portrays life there. They then find themselves in a position where they must adapt, so they mature here and become increasingly flexible, independent and resourceful.
The school benefits in a major way too, enriching the college experience for everyone on campus with the presence of individuals from other countries living and studying among us. Alm and the International Center’s goals to internationalize the campus become fulfilled whenever people become more aware of the culture and religion of the international students.
“Many of us may never have the opportunity to go to Saudi Arabia, but when we hear something on the news we can put a face to the culture and have insight into the situation,” said Alm, “and if we are lucky enough to have the chance to visit Saudi Arabia, we will have a friend there to help us when we need it.”
To further stress the importance of domestic and international student relationships, Dobrow and Alm orchestrated a group breakfast where all of the students could mingle over refreshments and share their thoughts and feelings, looking back at the experience. As journalists we can sometimes feel like fish out of water ourselves when approaching profiles of this nature in preparing to converse with someone whose primary language isn’t English, but everyone enjoyed the interview process and the writers were proud of their work.
The international students were just as happy that they participated. Most of them voiced their surprise when finding the emails from Dobrow’s class, yet were honored and excited to know that someone found them interesting, wanted to learn more about them, and then write a story. Smiles were abundant and the conversation was rich as just about everyone was intermingling and continuing to get to know one another.
It’s safe to say that both Dobrow and Alm’s missions are steadily making a difference. The foundation for the construction of meaningful relationships between domestic and international students has been laid based on the joint efforts of two faculty members who constantly have the improvement of Springfield College, its programs and students at the forefront of their minds.
Nobody likes feeling like a fish out of water – we can all live in the same ocean.