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Welcoming international students to campus

Danielle Waddell

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There are at least 1.13 million international students studying in the United States, not including exchange students. A little under 2,000 of these students attend The University of Alabama.

Our University has a number of spectacular organizations and programs whose sole focus is helping international students get comfortable and involved during their time here. I commend the people who initiate these programs, as well as all of those who commit to making sure the programs continue. However, I’m not very fond of how few American students are concerned with welcoming international students to the country and to Alabama.

While I discuss how much this saddens me, I should probably admit that I have been that person who avoids contact with international students. I’ve been that person very recently, actually.

The thought of interacting with international students used to petrify me. I was so afraid of being awkward with them and not knowing what to say or not being able to understand them or them not being able to understand me. It wasn’t until I was accepted to participate in a mission trip to Chinatown, during which we will be working with Chinese churches and their populations, that I was challenged by a friend to open myself up to international students and see if I could deal.

So I went with friends to International Coffee Hour in BB Comer on Friday. I was absolutely terrified.

I walked in and immediately my friends’ international friends ran up and hugged them excitedly. I just awkwardly stood there, silently praying everything would go smoothly. Soon, we gathered with some international students and began basic introductions. I was surprised by how easy it was––I’m socially awkward around new people, so usually it’s pretty rough.

The international students seemed so excited to talk about where they are from and why they came here, and they loved asking the Americans questions and finding out what was fun to do on campus. Time passed quickly and by the time coffee hour was over, we had made two new friends who I never would have talked to in any other situation, and we ended up spending the rest of the day with them. While things got awkwardly silent at times and maybe we each missed a word or two of what the other was saying, it was no different than a first conversation with anyone.

It’s crazy how much an hour can change your perspective on things. I had always been so afraid to hang out with international students because I didn’t know how to act around them, but it never dawned on me that they are just like me––just like us. Their home cultures may be different, but they are humans with needs and wants and hobbies and pet peeves, and they want to make friends like we all do.

I want to encourage and challenge The University of Alabama student body to be more attentive to our international population and to remind ourselves that they aren’t as different as we may think. We should want to help make these students feel at home here because this university is as much theirs as it is ours. If nothing else, our common ground is The University of Alabama, and I can’t think of a better commonality. 

Danielle Waddell is sophomore majoring in journalism. Her column runs weekly.

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Welcoming international students to campus