Dive into Diversity on the UIUC Campus

International Students Reflect on Integration Tools 

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UIUC quad on a quiet day.

 

There are over 30,000 undergraduate students that attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Suddenly a small world seems a little bigger. It becomes even larger when noted that, of these students, over 4,000 travel from over 110 foreign countries to unify themselves with a campus full of multiple majors and opportunities. The university prides itself on having the largest international student population of any public institution in the country.

But for those undergraduate students, the sidewalks of UIUC are a trip away from home, and the 12 to 18 hours of classes a week are the new adventure, lectures and labs included. Specifically for three students, from three different parts of the world, UIUC has become a temporary comfortable home away from home. But the journey here on out is its own story.

“I came here for the education because, in all actuality, it’s a lot better,” said Advay Lulla, a junior from Bombay, India. “You get a lot more opportunities here. I knew I liked science and I knew I wanted to be an engineer and UIUC is known for that. ”

UIUC offers a variety of programs for international students and domestic students to participate in that encourage socialization outside of the university. GLOBE – a program being launched this fall will allow domestic students and international students to build relationships, network and connect with one another.

According to Yun Shi, program director of international education at UIUC said that a group of domestic students “Blue” and international students “Orange” are teamed together. Both groups remain in contact over the summer and then plan activities throughout the semester. The program is volunteer based; however, both groups of students have to meet a set of requirements to participate.

“Coming here was the first time I’d ever been in America,” said Lulla. “It was difficult at first because this campus is so big and I didn’t know anyone at all.”

And here is where the issue occurs.

While the university prides itself on the diversity within the campus, students such as Lulla attempt to find international student services that allow students to integrate into such a large campus life to no avail. While the University offers a variety of resources, it may not be the solution to creating a more integrated community amongst international and domestic students.

“They have the international student services and everything, but I think that it isn’t’ widely known so I don’t think people make usage of the services as much as they possibly could,” said Lulla. “So, that’s one place that they could really improve on, where they could really reach out to students and get them to use the services.”

The students do have trouble integrating into the community and making friends. The International Student and Scholar Services hold many activities for students to attend. Although, few find that these activities really create a connection. Elsa Izere, international student, describes her issues with making friends.

“We can meet American students like on campus and stuff but we don’t really stay in contact. It’s not their fault but it’s like they already have their groups friends. It’s not easy to fit in when you don’t have the same culture. If you don’t have a group of people from your country or your culture, it would really really not be easy to fit in in the American society and you would kind of be left out alone. I think that would be the biggest challenge.”

Since the international student population is made up of students from many of the same countries they aren’t as worried about being integrated. International students from China and other Asian countries especially don’t feel this pressure. Asian students overwhelm the international student population and seem to create their own subculture on campus. This stems from that it is much easier to continue to hang out with students that already share their culture. Coming to a new country is already a challenge, being familiar makes it a lot easier on students when they can hang out with and stay connected with their home culture. This way the students don’t have to change. They can continue to live the Asian lifestyle in America. On Green Street alone, there are over six Asian restaurants. Associate Professor at the College of Media, Mike Yao, agrees with this, “they can easily just speak their own language, be in their own culture, eat their own foods and live in the same apartment complex and be a little bit detached from the overall campus life.”

Then the issue comes to how can the entire student body be integrated. It takes more than just international students to bridge the gap and create a more unified campus student body. Domestic students must take initiative to be the change. More domestic students have to be open to the idea of meeting new people. Yao speculates why this might be, “I think one of the problems is not that the students don’t want to, but that there is a fear or anxiety about making new friends.”

With friends, roommates and classmates from all over the world, covering this topic specifically was not difficult, but it was eye-opening. We wanted to find a way to show the diversity on the UIUC campus, but also how international students are being treated on a campus where everyday activities may seem completely foreign. Yes, the university offers international student services, but how are they working to displaying these services to students to get them involved with campus life?

 

Here is how we covered this topic:

See our audio wrap here.

See our video package here.

See our photo essay here.

See our info graphic here.