Indiana State students — both domestic and international — navigate cultural differences to make new friends and the most of their time visiting their host countries.
Since her arrival at Indiana State University almost two years ago, Minhee Kim’s personal introduction begins with letting people know she’s from Korea.
And she’s come to learn what question inevitably comes next: Which Korea?
Maybe it’s not the way Kim would hope to start a conversation with someone new, but she uses it as the chance to elaborate more on who she is — a graduate student from South Korea who received her master’s degree in teaching English as a second or foreign language and linguistics in May — and about where she comes from.
“I came to not only study my field but also to improve my language proficiency, so I was looking forward to making as many American friends as possible,” Kim said. “(In 2014), I got a job through the writing center working with other tutors who are native English speakers, and I made good friends. As I tutored many international students, I learned that their writing styles and rhetorical values are so different, and I got to understand them more.”
Kim found a perfect friend in Polina Kaniuka, a Ukrainian graduate student who has been in the U.S. four years and arrived in the Terre Haute a year after Kim. After studying in Nebraska, Kaniuka enrolled at Indiana State in 2014 and works with Kim at the department of languages, literatures and linguistics and Center for Global Engagement.
“Polina is very active and I was hesitant to get involved in things, I guess, because I was afraid,” Kim said. “But because of Polina, I got to meet a lot of people from different countries and found myself enjoying learning about other cultures, trying different food and learning new languages. I even started learning French (second semester).”
Being away from home might seem like a freeing experience for most students, but Kaniuka said international students sometimes feel dictated by the standards of their home countries or the families and friends they left behind.
“We don’t always feel like we can do what we want because we worry about what everyone else will think, but this is an excellent opportunity for all of us to learn something new about different countries, different cultures and about ourselves,” Kaniuka said, adding that after growing up in a family that makes few spicy dishes, she discovered an affinity for Korean and Ethiopian food during her time in America.
Americans, too, can feel like a fish out of water in a foreign land, but it shouldn’t hold them back, said Ginger Kremer, a Terre Haute native who graduated from Indiana State in December with a bachelor’s degree in geology and spent six months living in Shanghai.
“My brother knew someone who owned an international bar there and I’m a pretty good singer, so I sang there and met a lot of people,” Kremer said. “The language was a problem at first because I never studied Chinese, but I met college students who helped me learn Chinese and how to play badminton. When I got back to the U.S., I started playing badminton.”
Kremer joined a badminton club when she returned to Terre Haute. Although it consisted of mostly Chinese or Taiwanese players, Kremer made a friend in Kaniuka, who was also a club member.
“Within a year, I became president of the club and it now includes other nationalities, but being the minority was something I was used to having lived in China,” said Kremer, who moved to Taiwan in March to teach English for a year. “I really stuck out (in China) because I’m blonde, tall and pale, but the people were shy and never said anything about our obvious differences. I didn’t really like having the spotlight on me like that, but international students in the U.S. seem to blend in because America is such a melting pot of different people.”
Indiana State’s campus is a melting pot of sorts, too, with nearly 1,100 international students from 83 countries represented last academic year — a nearly 19 percent jump from the previous fall semester and the university’s highest international student enrollment yet.
In 2014, students sponsored by governments, military, oil companies or police organizations accounted for half of the international student enrollment. Saudi Arabia led the way with the highest enrollment (515 students), followed by India (110 students) and China (74 students).
There is a constant effort to help international students mingle and make the most of their time in America through activities sponsored by the Center for Global Engagement, like bowling night and indoor wall climbing. International students also host Global Nights, where they dedicate an evening to sharing their culture with the campus community.
“I want to meet new people and for them get to know my culture and share theirs,” said Kim, who plans to stay in the U.S. to complete her Ph.D. “Some domestic students seem afraid of international students, but reaching out goes both ways, so I hosted a potluck and asked people to bring food that represents their cultures. International students don’t have to wait for them to ask us questions — we can ask questions, too. I know my time (in the U.S.) is limited, and I want to take advantage of it to meet and discover more about the U.S.”