The International Club held its first meeting Thursday, Sept. 20 in the Adams Room of Harris Hall. As the first meeting of the semester, the main agenda included a meet and greet of returning and new members and discussion of upcoming ideas and plans.
University of Arkansas-Monticello Director of Admissions and International Officer Mary Whiting created the International Club in the spring of 2007. This year, Whiting requested the help of Admissions Intern Leslie Sellers, a graduate student from Mississippi State working on a master’s degree in counselor education with an emphasis in student affairs.
“My interest is with students in general,” Sellers said, “to help and serve them.”
Sellers will help implement ideas and events held by State’s international organizations into UAM’s International Club. Sellers said of the approximately 16,000 students enrolled at Mississippi State, 500 of those traveled from around the world to attend the school.
According to Sellers, State’s Homes and Diversity Center helps its international students transition. The Center also held an international week, which included a fashion show, foods and arts and crafts from international students’ countries. State held an international hour, as well, which allowed students from all nationalities to come together and discuss different cultures and the struggles they faced.
Sellers will also help put together a handbook for international students, which will provide them with necessary information to make their transition a little easier. Whiting would also like to implement a mentoring program to help international students transition.
“I think a mentoring program will be really important,” said Lindsay Rymes, a senior from Canada studying chemistry and biology.
Rymes originally came to UAM from Canada to play softball. Though she has since quit the team to complete her degree, she reflected on the support she and fellow Blossom softball player Jenny Dunn from Australia received from the team.
Rymes said team members invited her and Dunn to their homes to experience American culture, and more importantly, a family atmosphere. Rymes specifically mentioned a trip her and Dunn took to a family’s home around Easter, where they received Easter baskets full of small gifts.
“I think I would have gone home the first year if it wasn’t for (that),” she said, speaking of the support from her teammates and experiencing family even while so far away from her own family.
In addition to the mentoring program, Whiting said she made contact with a family temporarily living in Warren for work with a local business. The Canadian family would like to host a Canadian Thanksgiving for the international students and other interested students on campus.
“Everybody’s looking for the connection,” Whiting said. “I think there’s a fear of just getting to know people. People don’t know and they don’t ask because they don’t know what to ask.”
Carlos Bertoglio, a Fulbright teaching assistant from Argentina, added to the idea that if people think they are different, they may shy away from trying to learn more about that person.
“I see people look at me, and they probably wonder where I am from,” he said. “We think we’re so different, but we’re really, really the same.”
As a teacher from a foreign country, Bertoglio said that the learning experience is on both sides of the classroom.
“We learn from each other. We try to educate our students and not just teach them Spanish but culture,” he said. “At least now my students know Argentina’s not a tropical country,” he joked.
According to Whiting, she wanted to develop an organization to educate the campus community as well as assist the campus’s international students.
“I think we need to encourage people to learn from each other,” Whiting said.
To start Thursday’s meeting, Whiting reflected on activities and events held last semester to increase representation of international students at UAM and educate the campus about different cultures.
The Club held an International Culture Fair in the Adams Room over a three-day period in April, in which students, faculty and staff displayed personal and cultural items from their respective countries. The fair allowed the campus and Monticello communities the opportunity to learn more about the cultures represented on the UAM campus.
The fair received 175 visitors, including students, faculty, staff and visitors from outside the campus community. A teacher from Monticello brought her junior high class to learn about the 12 countries represented. The displays included items such as post cards, pictures, magazines and newspapers, figurines, clothing and, in some cases, cultural foods.
“To have started very small,” Whiting said, “I feel we did make an accomplishment.”
In addition to the club’s first event, Whiting discussed the club’s ability to connect with and help international students at UAM.
“I have developed some very strong relationships with international students,” she said, referencing a past student from Lithuania, Benas Matkevicius. According to Whiting, Matkevicius graduated from UAM and returned home about a year ago, but he still corresponds with her through e-mail.
Whiting told those at the meeting the troubles Matkevicius ran into when he first arrived in the United States, especially arriving after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Matkevicius went to Whiting with problems getting his money to Monticello. Not only did Whiting help him get his money, but she gave him money to live on until his funds arrived. When Matkevicius returned to pay her back, she told him he could return the favor by helping someone else.
When Matkevicius returned to Lithuania, he sent Whiting an e-mail saying he helped someone the way she did. With a look of fondness, she said that was the best way he could have repaid her.
Whiting helps international students in a variety of ways, from helping them receive scholarships to just helping them feel at home in a foreign land.
Last semester, a host mother contacted Whiting worried about her host daughter being depressed on her birthday because she had not made a lot of connections at the time.
As a mother herself, Whiting instantly began work on a birthday party for the Brazilian student. She got a cake, refreshments and some people together and threw a party. Whiting said the student was so thrilled she cried.
“(It) took not a lot of effort, and everyone left with a smile on their face,” Whiting said, pointing out that the smallest things can help in the biggest way.
“People are people,” she said. “They just want to be cared about and have fun together.”
When asked what they felt Monticello and UAM lacked, most agreed on entertainment. Rymes mentioned that she enjoyed dressing up and going out to nice restaurants back home, but in Monticello she does not have that option.
Bertoglio said the first two or three weeks at UAM were difficult for him and fellow Fulbright teaching assistant Anany Chacon from Mexico, because they didn’t have anything to do until they began teaching.
“Small towns are small towns everywhere,” he said. “(But), the people are friendly and willing to help.”
When asked what she enjoyed most about the area, Chacon said she loved her classes and agreed with Bertoglio’s assessment of the Natural State.
“The people are friendly, that’s what I like about Arkansas,” she said.
In addition to the Fulbright teaching assistants and other international faculty, UAM currently hosts 20 international students from countries including Nepal, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Azerbaijan, England and Panama.
“I want the campus community to learn more about you and the community as a whole to learn more,” Whiting said.
In addition to its other plans to increase representation of the international population at UAM, the Club nominated Nigar “Nika” Najafova from Azerbaijan for Homecoming Court and hopes to begin setting up cultural booths at the football games for students to share food, art, music or other items from their countries with the campus.
Whiting is currently looking for a good meeting time for all those interested in participating. She pointed out that any interested persons may attend the meetings, including international and national students, faculty, staff and community members.
information on the International Club, contact Whiting at 460-1026 or
Have a comment? Please e-mail us.
ŠThe Voice 2007
Revised 09/15/2007 05:56:16 PM — http://www.uamont.edu/Organizations/TheVoice/5_4/iclub.htm