International Students Navigate American Culture Through Workshop Hosted by International Student Services and THINK TANK

What if your roommate depleted all of your toiletries without bothering to ask, or if a new friend gave you an outfit you were embarrassed to wear? Scenarios such as these are uncomfortable for most people, but for international students, they can be unequivocally intimidating.

International Student Services (ISS) of the Office of Global Initiatives and THINK TANK at the University of Arizona (UA) are determined to help students from around the world find their voice and approach these kinds of conundrums with confidence.

That’s where “Let’s Talk About” comes in.

ISS and THINK TANK devised the eight-week conversational series to create a safe space for international students at the UA to sharpen their English skills while learning how to succeed in their new environment.

“The series exposes international students to some of those pressing questions they might have about American culture, the U.S. university system, and the University of Arizona,” said Noelle Sallaz, Associate Director of International Student Development at ISS. “Through small group discussions, students can learn from the workshop speaker and each other in an intimate, engaging way while also practicing their speaking skills and forming community with other international students.”

The first workshop of 2017 focused on American Culture, and it was apparent many things American students take for granted present real challenges to international students who are honing their English skills while simultaneously navigating new surroundings.

International students asked anonymously, “why don’t Americans carry umbrellas, and why do universities in the U.S. use animals as their mascots?”

While these lighter inquiries drew laughter from all sides of the room, other topics conveyed tougher quandaries international students face, such as, “how do I even start an academic assignment, and is it acceptable to ask someone their sexual preference?”

Workshop speakers, UA Global Ambassadors, and THINK TANK Academic Skills Tutors (ASTs) guided international students through solving these predicaments; and in many cases, nobody could furnish an obvious answer, further bridging the cultural gap.

Several brave students openly shared their cultural misunderstandings with the group, fostering a sense of community, sustained by smiles and laughter.

One international student quickly learned a lesson about sales tax when he brought exact change to purchase ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery. A meticulous soul, he researched online to learn the precise cost for a small cup, only to learn four dollars on the dot wouldn’t cut it. Thankfully, a friend stepped forward to reconcile the difference.

Small gestures of kindness such as this emerged as an integral theme to the workshop.

International students consistently mentioned how important it was to build relationships on campus, and they see the “Let’s Talk About” workshops as an avenue to forge new friendships.

“I enjoyed sharing experiences with other international students,” said Sun-A Lee, a junior from South Korea. “It made me feel like I am not the only one facing these challenges.”

International students agreed that as they advance their English skills, academic coursework and making new friends becomes easier.

“We looked into issues facing international students, and it turned out conversational support was a big thing so we evolved the workshops into a kind of conversational series,” said Amanda Parkman, Academic Skills Coordinator with THINK TANK.

Prompting international students to talk aloud and share their stories in a comfortable space, the first “Let’s Talk About” workshop was a step in shattering language barriers, while also connecting people with shared experiences— a notion that resonates with Juri Won, a senior from South Korea.

“I love to have discussions with people and make new friends; It’s great to hear about other students’ experiences.”

The “Let’s Talk About” series is a collaboration between ISS, THINK TANK, Career Services, Scholarship Universe, Graduate and Professional Student Council, and Campus Health Services. A list of upcoming events is below. All workshops take place in the Office of Student Engagement in the Student Union (1st floor by food court) from 4:00p.m. to 5:00p.m. International students who attend the entire series will receive a certificate of completion.

-Let’s Talk About Finding Your Voice, 1/25/2017

-Let’s Talk About Creating a College Toolkit, 2/1/2017

-Let’s Talk About Writing and Grammar, 2/8/2017

-Let’s Talk About Scholarships and Funding for International Students, 2/15/2017

-Let’s Talk About Resumes and Cover Letters, 2/22/2017

-Let’s Talk About Interviewing Skills, 3/1/2017

-Let’s Talk About Stress Management, 3/8/2017