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Point of View: Relationships with international students reap cultural influence, impact U.S.'s reputation

Jan. 26, 2010

By Olga Ball

During the fall semester, I learned more about Brazil, Japan, China and many other countries. I was able to taste cuisine from all over the world and listen to music from artists I would have never discovered on my own. No, I didn't study abroad. I got to know the international students here on campus.

In a conversation with Beth Walker, the former international student relations coordinator, she told me, "We need to fulfill the responsibility of friendship to people who come to our country -- if we make good connections, international students go home with a better feeling about the United States."

I hear people complaining about how other countries view the United States. By extending hospitality to international students, we can change that opinion, one person at a time.

I know the feeling of being dumped into a new culture with no real sense of direction. When I first moved to the United States, I knew three words -- hi, bye and frog. Unfortunately the sentence, "Hi frog, bye!" does not get you far in life, so I had to learn the language and adapt to the culture of a completely new country. Although international students usually have a much more solid background in the English language than I did, the transition is still scary. In my conversations with international students this semester, they told me that the easiest way for them to adapt was to communicate with students from the United States who were willing to guide them during their time at Baylor.

Just as international students can learn about the United States culture and Baylor life from us, we have so much to learn from them and their experiences in their home country.

I have learned about the many differences between university life in United States and other countries. I have danced to cultural dances and learned about fashion around the world. I have felt much more cultured without ever stepping out of the Baylor environment. We don't always have a chance to travel to every country, but we do have the opportunity to learn about different countries from others.

I encourage you to reach out to the international student community this semester. It's easier than you might think. You could join PAWS or simply attend one of the free international student dinners, which are open to all students. If you see international students in one of your classes, ask them about their home country. Reach out. The impact you make by a simple gesture is much greater than you could ever imagine.

Olga Ball is a Plano junior majoring in political science and journalism. She is the copy desk chief of the Baylor Lariat.