Viewpoint: Reach out to international students for new perspective

By Hayley Gibson

Last Monday, 220 international students wandered onto Baylor’s campus for the very first time for their first class at their first American university.

And we thought freshman year was intimidating.

These 220 students are composed of abroad exchange students, graduate students and even freshmen embarking on their four years of an undergraduate experience in a new country. In a matter of 48 hours, these students were introduced to fried food, the word “y’all” and Texas heat.

As a student worker for International Student Relations, I have copied countless visas and passports, pointed the way to numerous buildings and answered a wide variety of interesting and sometimes amusing questions such as “Do we have a curfew?”

Before starting my job this August, I will admit that I too traveled through campus, oblivious to the Russian exchange student in front of me or the girl from Brazil that held the door for me.

Sadly, I feel this is the case for many students at Baylor, and I believe they are truly missing out on the greatest cultural exchange opportunity of their lives.

After meeting almost every new international student this year, I can now recognize their faces and names. I can spot an international student in a crowd and sometimes match them to their country, but I regret the two years that I spent on this campus without realizing the depth of culture and diversity in front of us.

There are plenty of opportunities to engage in the international community here on campus, and even more ways to learn about the types of cultures represented at Baylor.

Many students at Baylor participate in People Around the World Sharing (PAWS), a program that matches an international student to a Baylor student to promote international friendships and help the international student feel welcomed into the community.

Every other Tuesday night, there is an international student dinner at the Bobo, and every year at homecoming, our guests march in the homecoming parade while holding their respective country’s flag.

I believe that these students often walk among us unnoticed, and rather than blending in, we should celebrate their culture and engage in conversation with them.

Sitting down with a student from Kenya and listening to his or her stories may teach us more than any African Studies course, and reaching out to the Chinese student that sits next to you in class may lead you to a new friendship.

We may never again have the chance to hear firsthand about what life in Malawi is like or about the cultural practices in Nepal. We may never again meet someone from Sweden or St. Lucia, and not talking about culture while we have the opportunity may prevent us from gaining a new perspective on the world.

We have that opportunity every single day here.

There are 535 international students from 73 countries in our midst who, like us, are walking to the BSB for class or standing in line for lunch at Memorial. All we have to do is reach out.

Hayley Gibson is a junior international studies major from Soway, Calif. She is a reporter for the Baylor Lariat.