Tiered plates of cookies and a pitcher gurgling with hot water in the International Academic Programs (IAP) office Thursday afternoon promised an American attempt at high tea.
As both returning study abroad participants and new international students sipped, conversation ranged from the upcoming Women’s March to Kansas City barbecue. Travelers also reflected on the unique challenges international students face.
“I did an internship in the Dominican Republic, so I was rotating in a hospital,” recent UMKC graduate Indaina Calderon recalled. “Anytime I would switch my rotations, I would go through [an] initial panic. I would have to learn new medical terminologies in a short amount of time.”
Though most students do not venture into international health care while abroad, everyday life— from finding a grocery store, using public transport, to homework in a foreign language—can feel like learning medical jargon with the fast-paced pressure and confusion of an emergency room.
Fortunately, university resources can help.
“We do things like, when [international] students get here, give them a welcome bag with sheets,” study abroad and exchange coordinator Kate Wozniak said. “Students would get here and there would be no sheets, no shower curtain, no toilet paper, and they have no way to get anywhere, so we found things that we think make it a bit easier for them.”
Law student Claire Haag of Luxembourg attributed UMKC’s accessibility and comfort to the relationships between Wozniak, other IAP staff members and the students they mentor.
“A school can be accessible, [yet] for an international student it’s [still] different and you have to figure it out on your own,” Haag commented. “But at least here you can ask people.”
In addition to a flourishing study abroad program, the community organization Friends of Internationals (FOI) adds to Kansas City’s diverse culture and strives to be welcoming.
The unspoken theme of FOI’s new international student welcome party Friday night also revolved around relationships.
Katie Li of Taiwan said that meeting the volunteers has been comforting.
“The people are very nice,” Li said, “and even though I’m not good at speaking, they listen to what I’m talking about.”
Megha Nagabhushan of India said, “I think there’s great food and games, and I get to meet a lot of people from different countries.”
Jim Hung of Taiwan took these ideas and summed up his favorite part of the party in one word: “communicating.”
Of course, not everyone gave the same answer. Yu Hsuan Lin , also of Taiwan, said his favorite aspect was the table tennis, because it helps his flexibility. It sure does, particularly when competing against FOI’s leader Andrew Ong, a ping pong master.
Each aspect of FOI’s welcome parties—from the food (which on Friday included pad thai, numerous curries, mashed potatoes, fried chicken and a plethora of cookies) to the games, like ping pong, foosball and signs—helps to foster relationships between the people in attendance.
Once these relationships were built, volunteers at the party encouraged their new friends to join them for future events like Super Bowl parties, cultural food exchanges, and Conversational English nights.
“It’s an opportunity to be the first person, the first contact, the first friend that somebody has in the United States where they don’t know anyone else,” said Taylor Lyon, a long-time volunteer with FOI.
To learn more and become involved with Friends of Internationals or UMKC International Academic Programs, visit their respective Facebook pages or the UMKC IAP office.
Melissa Wharton also contributed to this article.