This semester I explored a new international group on campus when I applied to serve as a NISO Peer Mentor. NISO, the New International Student Orientation, hosts Crimson Connection, workshops, Game Nights, and other social events aimed at easing the cultural transition for the university’s international students. Throughout the semester, I kept up with my small group that I was first assigned in August!
NISO was great–I met new friends, interacted with people from almost every continent, and gained some new insights about studying abroad in the US, which interestingly, opened my eyes to things I will have to consider once I leave here, like:
PUBLIC TRANSPORT WILL BE MY BEST FRIEND
We’ve discussed this some before in my GEF class last fall, but my international students revived this fear of mine. I grew up taking a car everywhere, only switching it up for “Ride Your Bike to School Day” maybe once a year (that’s a strong maybe). I’ve never had to consider bus fare, or bus routes, and the closest thing I’ve gotten to a subway is the monorail at Disney World. I got a lot of questions from my students about bus routes, especially the best ones to take to grocery stores and other necessities. I had students from dense metropolitan areas and rural areas, yet they were all seasoned veterans in the public transport world. So, if they still had some figuring out to do regarding routes, how much of a struggle will I have when I’m having to figure out the whole system?? The only consolation is that I’ve started irrationally worrying now, so that maybe by the time I go abroad I will have read a copy of “Public Transportation for Dummies” or a detailed WikiHow :-).
GET CELL PHONE PLAN
Okay, so this isn’t something I’m nearly as worried about (you don’t need a phone number to take pictures!!) but I suppose it is important enough to remind myself of here.
STUDENTS FROM SIMILAR CULTURES/COUNTRIES TEND TO STICK TOGETHER
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Especially if you’re about to navigate a new language, and need some friends that you can be 100% comfortable around. I just hope that I can be brave enough to talk to non-American foreign students, and then even local French students (gasp!) Thinking about seeking a friend group abroad has made me appreciate what NISO does, I hope that us Peer Mentors did a good job of presenting ourselves as friendly, casual equals, and not inaccessible because we’re in our home country, already secure with other friends and activities. I also hope that schools abroad strive to assimilate their international students like we do!
EVOLVE FROM BEING A TOURIST
Our world has so many awe-inspiring, historic chapels, museums, and landscapes. All riddled with mass-produced gift-shop items and paid tours. And those are awesome, and I’m totally gonna do all of them and take the same pictures as everyone else and not regret any of it. But spending time with my students got me imagining what it must be like to attend the University of Oklahoma as an international student. I love my home state, I do, but there’s no Eiffel Tower or Sistine Chapel or ancient streets you can navigate by foot. I wondered “Why would these students, who are already so well traveled, who have already seen so many iconic “travel destinations,” come to Oklahoma? Are there that many great tourist spots?”
Maybe not, but my students expressed excitement about things like intramural sports, Greek life, and football games– things that aren’t tourist-y and surface level, but things that are intrinsic to our college experience. They were here for the academic and social opportunities that differed from those of their home country, not just the red-bricked splendor of campus. When I was little I wanted to go to France to see quaint countryside homes and eat baguettes and take pictures of the Arc de Triomphe. But the narrative of study abroad that I’ve gained just from opportunities on campus has matured my own, convinced me to work towards a more challenging, and more enriching experience.