Chatham international students go to Washington

Coming to a new country to study abroad is a peculiar and difficult experience. For some students, it is their first time leaving home altogether. Others cannot wait to experience a new culture.

In order to help international students experience as much of the United States as possible, Chatham sponsored a trip to Washington, D.C., over fall break., and many international students loved the experience.

“I want to brush up on my English skills,” said Reimi Ibuki, who is from Japan. “It’s good to try something new.”

Ibuki is majoring in English, and she feels that coming to Chatham has helped her to improve her language skills.

Hye Young Baek, a South Korean student majoring in English and International Studies, likes living in Pittsburgh.

“I like Chatham because first of all, it’s in the city, and the public transportation is very comfortable to get around on,” she said, about why she chose to study at Chatham. “Also, the professors at Chatham are so nice to us international students. Many people recommended this school to me.”

But Baek also enjoyed the chance of scenery for the long weekend.

Chatham’s international student population is from a variety of backgrounds; people come from South Korea, Japan, Germany, and more to study here.

Many have not had the opportunity to study internationally before, and this fall break Washington, D.C., trip gave many a look into the American experience.

Chatham students particularly enjoyed visiting the Smithsonian Museum.

“I really like the ‘Night at the Museum’ movies, and I was glad to see some exhibits that were in the movie,” Baek said about her trip to the Smithsonian’s National History Museum. “There were so many nice exhibitions.”

“All the museums were really fun,” Ibuki added. “I also got to eat at a sushi place with my friends after.”

Another point of interest was visiting the more political buildings.

“I really liked the architecture of the White House and Capitol Building,” Baek said about her experience on Capitol Hill. “I also found the Lincoln Memorial very impressive. The people in D.C. were dressed for business. It was interesting to see a different atmosphere from Pittsburgh.”

The students had the opportunity to see the Washington Monument, as well as some of the other historical points in the city.

The trip not only provided a fun learning experience; it also offered great opportunities to bond with the other international students.

“There are not many chances to communicate in English in my country, so maybe this gives an advantage to me to communicate better and to make good memories here,” Ibuki said about how the trip helped her socially. “My friends and I had fun. We bonded a lot.”

Though the trip was short, it offered cultural exposure that many students had not yet had the chance to experience. Washington, D.C., offered a change of scenery from Pittsburgh, while still offering students a broad view of city life.

Baek said she would definitely visit the United States’ capital again, if given the chance.

“I heard the cherry blossoms are very pretty. I would love to go back and see that scenery,” she said.

While this will be the first of many trips international students will likely embark on while attending Chatham, it set a precedent in regards to education and entertainment, providing the international students with the full American experience.

International students at Chatham settle into life in Pittsburgh

Chatham University has been an international campus since the 1930s. Today Chatham has 180 students from several countries mostly from Saudi Arabia, China, and Canada. International students are involved in different programs at Chatham including the English language program, graduate, and undergraduate studies, in addition to one semester or full year programs.

International students at Chatham have different experiences living away from home even though they live on the same campus.

“It’s an amazing but challenging experience. One of the biggest challenges I’ve been facing is the cold winter. I’ve lived in a tropical country all my life and have never experienced this type of cold,” said Silvia Alejandra, an exchange student from Honduras. “The culture shock of being in a new country can be overwhelming, but it’s an amazing experience to get to meet new people and immerse yourself in a new culture,” she added.

For Daniella Bauer who is studying English language, the challenge is different.

“The biggest challenge was to deal with my loss of professional identity and activities. I used to be very active at work and studies in Brazil,” said Bauer. “Other challenges for Brazilians are the interpersonal relationships. We like make connections and know about peoples’ lives and customs. At Chatham, I meet people from many countries, and the teachers as well, made me feel very connected and welcome,” she added.

“Well I guess the only challenge I’m facing right now is the fact that I’m not allowed to work off campus and so can’t really fund my education until I get a job after graduation,” said Komal Kooduvalli, a graduate student from India. “Honestly, I love Pittsburgh. It’s become my home now, and I love the people, place, and culture.”

Kooduvalli continued, “I think Chatham has been instrumental every step of the way in helping me adjust including helping me get proper on-campus accommodation and everything. My teachers are fantastic and always ready to help, and friends support me emotionally and have become my family here.”

For May Alrawaqi, an English language student originally from Saudi Arabia, dealing with weather is very sensitive.

“Living in Pittsburgh is so challenging during the winter, especially when it snows. Since I have a child, I have to skip classes whenever it gets so cold in order to take care of him. Not to mention getting cold and sick,” said Alrawaqi. “Although I like Chatham university and feel very comfortable studying here, I have to leave it next year. I am seeking a masters degree in mathematics, but this major isn’t available at Chatham,” she added.

Many international students share the the worry about their kids and their family members living at home.

“My greatest challenge is the separation with my family. I miss and worry about my daughter, my husband, and my parents,” said Wenju Chen, a graduate Nursing student from China. “Then the language barrier comes next. Sometimes, I feel lost when I talk with people here,” she added.

Lama Alrwais, who also has a child, said,”being a mother and a student is hard. I have late classes at Chatham, and after going home I have to take care of my baby and cook dinner for my family. By the end of the day I don’t have the energy to do school work.”

Alrwais is Saudi Arabian, and currently studying English at Chatham.

“The language is so different from mine. I feel like my simple vocabulary does not convey my ideas and thoughts to people and teachers,” she added.

At Chatham, the Office of International Affairs tries to help students adapt to the new environment by providing pre-class orientations and workshops through the fall and the spring semesters. The workshops introduce international students to U.S. culture and its academic system, and they help students determine their future careers.

Chatham hosts Global Mixer in observance of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

On Tuesday, September 9, students from all around the world gathered in Welker Room in the Laughlin Music Hall to meet new people, enjoy food, and listen to music at the Global Mixer in observance of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival.

The Mid-Autumn Festival, which fell on Monday, September 8 this year, is China’s harvest festival that celebrates the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox.  The full moon is believed to bring peace, prosperity, and family harmony.

Welker was decorated for the festivities with red and gold balloons–colors that are usually associated with good fortune and happiness in Chinese culture. Each table was decorated with a sheet of paper which bore words like “happiness,” “harmony,” “music,” and “peace,” and the words’ translation into Chinese characters.

Also available was a photo booth, consisting of a red paper backdrop decorated with gold paper lanterns. Party masks were supplied for students to don while getting their picture taken.

Though the Mixer honored Chinese culture, it differed from a traditional Mid-Autumn festival celebration in China.

“[To celebrate], family members gather together,” said Qian Li, a Chinese student in the Masters of Science in Nursing program.  “At night, if the weather is okay, we go outside to appreciate the moon,” she said.

Food is also an essential part of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

“We eat the moon cake. It’s the most important part,” said Zhing Zhai, a Chinese student in the Masters of Interior Architecture program. “Even if people don’t eat moon cakes, they buy them to send to friends.”

Photo Credit: Ivy Kuhrman

Photo Credit: Ivy Kuhrman

According to Zhai, although there was only one type of sweet moon cake at the Global Mixer, there are more varieties to choose from in China, including those filled with chicken or with ice cream.

Although the artichoke dip and peach cobbler were plentiful, the Mixer’s buffet ran out of moon cakes early on, which left some students disappointed.

“I really wanted to have some moon cakes, but there weren’t many, so I didn’t get any,” first-year student Bethany Bookout said.

Though the Chinese festival was the focus of the Mixer, guests were not limited to Chinese students. According to International Student Services Coordinator Vivian Yamoah, invitations were extended to international students on campus, to all the members of the Laughlin Intercultural Living Learning Community, and to the rest of the Chatham Community. Guests hailed from many countries, including Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Japan, Palestine, South Korea, and Zambia. Approximately 80 people joined in, with 68 official student sign-ins.

The Office of International Affairs hosted the event in hopes of enriching students’ global awareness.

“Our idea is to welcome the new international students and make them feel at home,” said Study Abroad Coordinator and Acting Director of International Affairs Karin Chipman.  “We want them to mix together and get to know other perspectives outside of just those in Pittsburgh.”

Many students chose to attend the event in hopes of achieving Chipman’s goal.

“I wanted to try out delicacies from different parts of the world and talk to other international students,” said Komal Kooduvalli, who has come from Bangalore, India to obtain a Masters in Sustainability.

“It’s interesting to get to know other people,” said Jenny Wittann, from Berlin, Germany, who is also in the Masters in Sustainability program. “I don’t know much about the Chinese culture, and I hope to learn more about it.”

“My favorite part is the food,” said American graduate student Dayna Van Fleet.  “The company is pretty good, too,” she said, chuckling, when reminded by her tablemates Kooduvalli and Wittann.

To encourage further intercultural communication, the Office of International Affairs will hold smaller Global Mixers on the third Thursdays of October and November in Café Rachel from 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.