Bridging worlds: Community dinner addresses international students’ experiences

Sam Jacobson, Contributing Writer

Roughly 50 community members gathered on Oct. 25 in the Walls Lounge to discuss a significant but sometimes overlooked segment of the student population: international students. Ziwei Chen ’19, Kate Sidlowski ’18, Subarno Turja ’19, Karen Somasundaram ’18, Fatima Rezaei ’17, Sarah Decker ’17, and Chanda Singoyi ’18 worked together to bring the topic international life at the University to the community.

Since 2014, community dinners have been held in order to direct conversation to a specific topic. The dinners have evolved to foster conversation around a range of topics including the experiences of Posse scholars, LGBTQ integration, the Greek/non-Greek social divide, and the non-athlete versus athlete experience.

One of the strengths of the community dinner program is its ability to bring together faculty, staff, and students to discuss topics that would typically not be brought up in regular dinner conversation.  Particularly for the faculty and administration, it takes courage to enter into such a space. The fact that many people attended demonstrates a willingness to learn from others’ experiences.

This particular community dinner grew out of a Writing Center program to partner domestic tutors with international students. Sidlowski discussed how she did not realize the kind of social segregation that occurs within the international community until she worked with and befriended Gui Pravato, a Brazilian international student last year.

The discussion was split into two sections: social life and learning experiences. Each table was staffed with a facilitator who began and guided the conversations. Topics included dispelling stereotypes, identifying knowledge gaps, and acknowledging the placement of extracurricular learning at the University.

It became clear through conversations at multiple tables that some international students felt as though they were responsible for educating domestic students about diversity. This reflects sentiments echoed by marginalized groups across campus. In addition to learning within their classes for their individual degrees, non-normative students are called on to act as educators. Students of color are tasked with educating white students about race, LGBTQ students are tasked with educating campus about sex and gender, and international students educate domestic students about their culture.

Multiple students at the dinner voiced their concern about this extra-educational burden. One student pointed out that dominant identities are impacted by minority identities too, and therefore everyone should share the burden of education.

Fortunately, while some students came for the food, all stayed for the conversation and left having learned something.

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