Gala Draws International Students Together in Celebration
Homesickness at AU can be a bit different than at other universities. With an international student population of well over a thousand representing some 127 countries, many students long for homes far away in other hemispheres.
That’s why AU’s International Student & Scholar Services recently held its first Autumn Evening Gala. As many U.S.-based parents visited their children for All-American Weekend, ISSS interim director Senem Bakar decided something should be done for those students who can only reach parents over the phone or Internet.
Part of that, she explained, is making sure these students know how important they are on campus, bringing perspectives and insights from around the world.
“[It’s] to tell them we value your presence here. We appreciate you as part of the community. You have a family here. The AU community is your home away from home,” Bakar said. “I thought that would be important.”
With that in mind, her office brought a group of students together to create an event in the Katzen Arts Center that would come to feature traditional dance performances from Japan, India, and Africa, as well as a live Cambodian music and students in traditional garb from their home countries.
According to Senem, students decided everything—even when and where—this event for their peers would take place.
“It was driven by students,” she explained proudly. “They actually worked on the organization and everything. The real structure came from them.”
Nicaraguan student Camilo Pérez Setright helped plan the evening, which drew about 200 students. For him, the event is simply a natural fit for a vibrant community like American.
“We have a lot of international students at AU. That’s what AU is big on, diversity,” he said. “This event was mainly about people bringing out their culture and sharing it.”
Not coincidentally the event also marked International Education week, which started almost 15 years ago to promote studying abroad between cultures. Recent figures even reported the highest ever numbers of students from abroad studying in the U.S.
Saida Khamidova, originally from Uzbekistan, has found her work as a student-staff member with ISSS an incredibly rich and eye-opening experience.
“Meeting new people is my favorite part about working in the office. There’s just so much diversity,” she said. “Even people of the same culture have something special to bring to the office…just their experiences. It’s priceless.”
Aside from students in their traditional garb, the night included takes on traditional Thanksgiving foods like turkey sandwiches, pumpkin pie, and hot apple cider. As domestic students ready to return home for Thanksgiving, Bakar hoped to provide context on the holiday for students staying on campus during the break.
“Most of the new students are learning the mainstream culture here. ‘What’s Thanksgiving?’ This was a little taste,” she said. “Everyone’s going to talk about Thanksgiving and going to see family, so I think we touched on that.”
Still, after such a successful night, Pérez Setright knows that the work at an institution like AU is never finished—even when it comes to homesickness.
“Each year, we keep getting more and more international students,” he said. “With this class, we just want to make a greater effort at making them feel connected.”