An international bond
By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News
That’s how Hermela Adnew described her first impression of Mt. Pleasant.
“I’m from the city, its always loud and hectic,” she said. What she missed most from the noise were the different languages. “I come from a country that has about 18 different languages, which we don’t have here.”
Adnew, a native of Ethiopia, is one of 80 international students representing 26 countries at Iowa Wesleyan University, the largest number of students the university has ever had at any one time. It’s all part of the university’s strategic plan to increase the number of enrollment of international students and to “bring a nice mixture of the world here to Iowa,” DeWayne Frazier, vice president of academic affairs, said.
“What we think is if you’re going to be a true university, because we had changed to a university, you have to have a global reach. And to have that global reach you have to have students from all over the world here,” explained Frazier.
“It’s a two-way street,” he adds about the benefit of having international students. “We learn about their countries and become more globally minded, but then the international students learn more about the United States. It’s a proven fact that when students come to America, they have a more favorable impression of our country and our people.”
That was true for Adnew. “We get to see different people from other countries,” she said. “I would probably have never met people from the places I’ve met. So you learn more about their culture and the different things that they do and you seem to know more about the world and what’s happening.”
Grace Gao, a student from China, said she came to learn that Americans, especially Iowans, were much nicer than she expected. “People here are very nice,” she said. “When I’m in China when I meet strangers in the street, we don’t have eye touch with each other, but people here, they are very nice, even if you are a stranger they will say hello and have eye touch.”
Juan David Crespo, a freshman from Ecuador, agrees with Gao about the “Iowa nice” phenomenon he experienced.
Crespo said he came to Mt. Pleasant and Iowa Wesleyan for the opportunity. “I thought I was going to be in a community where everyone was going to have each other’s back.” And that’s what he’s found. “The faculty members will go out of their way to help you. I think that’s the magic of little towns,” he said. “People will give you a hand, always.”
The university doesn’t just bring foreign students to the university; they take care of them once they’re here, according to Maria Metcalf, the internationals programs advisor.
Metcalf is not only responsible for bringing international students to the university, but making sure they are getting everything possible out of the experience. “We do activities once a month off campus for the students. We just started our International Club, as in two weeks ago. And we also do different services for the students – we take them to WalMart once a week, we show them how to get a driver’s license, we do workshops for them like filing their taxes and we take them to the doctor,” said Metcalf of the variety of services her office offers.
Out of all of the services, Metcalf and the students, like Miriana “Mimi” Scatola are most excited about the new club.
Scatola, a freshman from Italy, is president of the club. “I really like it, how do I say it, I like to have leadership,” said Scatola of her position. “I was the president of my old high school in Italy. Here it is different because we are trying to create events.”
The events will be for the international students as well as the campus at large. “We are trying to create an event right before mid-terms, like a party to relieve stress,” Scatola says with a giggle.
Other events the newly formed club has tossed around is “Iowa Wesleyan’s Got Talent” and an outdoor festival for Holi, a south Asian holiday.
Scatola says it’s activities like the club that have helped make her feel part of the campus and community.
“When I first came here I used to miss my family a lot. And the class, I didn’t know how everything worked so it was very difficult for me to understand and sometimes I was scared to say something to my American friends because I didn’t know if I was going to sound rude,” said Scatola.
Scatola found solace in her fellow international students. “I know we are all different, but we understand each other much better. They go through what I am going through so there is a stronger bond,” she said.
Tevin Yen found a bond with the other international students through sports and music. Yen, a freshman from the Cayman Islands, is a member of Wesleyan’s soccer team. “The soccer team normally sticks together; we look out for one another,” he said.
One of his favorite activities has been meeting the audience following the soccer game. “After the games we go to the crowd and thank them for coming out,” he said. “We also go out to support our other athletic teams, whether it’s football or basketball, we have a good community with our other athletes.”
It was during some of those hangouts Yen discovered he had more in common with the other athletes. “What was actually surprising is my Brazilian teammate and my Honduras teammate showed me songs from my culture that they liked.”
And it didn’t stop there. Yen’s parents are Jamaican and he was pleased when his friend from Ecuador tried to introduce him to Jamaican music.
Yen said the language may be different, but there are common threads between the music and cultures.
For those on campus or in the community who are interested in meeting the international students and gaining a bit of their own global perspective, Australian born Blake Forsythe says to just say hi. “Don’t be shy, we’re not going to bite,” he quips. “We’re more interested in you than you are of us; there’s a reason that we came here.”
For more information about Iowa Wesleyan’s international students or program, contact Maria Metcalf at (319) 385-6205 or firstname.lastname@example.org.