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Transitioning from secondary to higher education can be challenging on many levels for American students, but it can be even more daunting for international students.
“The skills and strategies these students had cultivated in their home country to excel and flourish do not always serve them well here in the U.S.,” says Scott Stevens, director of UD’s English Language Institute (ELI).
According to Stevens, the difficulties that international students may experience range from study skills ill-suited to U.S. higher education with its extensive reading requirements, to a very different cultural understanding of the meaning and importance of academic honesty, to a sense of alienation, culture shock and homesickness. Such hurdles can hinder students’ academic success and hamper their efforts to develop friendships and meaningfully participate in campus life.
The ELI is now piloting the “Global Living Community” at Rittenhouse Station, a new apartment complex in Newark, Del., to help international students better acclimate to UD, while also providing American students with a unique cultural education and service opportunity.
The rules for living in the bright, modern apartments are simple, says Timothy Kim, ELI orientation coordinator who oversees the program. Each apartment includes an American student and up to three international students of the same gender. Each week, roommates are asked to eat at least one meal together, as well as participate in one other activity. It might be getting together for a game of volleyball or going to a student club meeting, movie, play, concert or athletics event.
“This living arrangement is designed to help our international students to more easily adjust to the language and broader culture of the U.S., and to the specific culture of UD campus life. It’s also a great experience for American students who want to learn about other cultures,” Kim notes.
As she worked to complete her master’s degree in economics at UD this past fall, Janel Lo was like a mother hen to her roommates, Xian Wei and Peiyu Zhao from China. Although Lo is Chinese American, she does not speak much Chinese. As she helped her roommates to learn English, they taught her Chinese expressions. In the evenings, they would gather in one of the bedrooms in blankets and sleeping bags to study.
“They are like sisters to me!” Smith says.
Lo infused the apartment with American traditions and festivities: they dressed up in costumes for Halloween, cooked Thanksgiving dinner and celebrated Christmas-American style. Zhao, who had never cooked or done laundry at home in China, now knows how, thanks to the American friend who taught her. “My mother would not believe it,” Zhao says, smiling.