Blending in: international and nontraditional students help bridge cultural divides

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Many students value UW-Fox Valley for being close to home and reasonably priced, allowing them to minimize expenses while earning an associate degree. A wide range of students from many backgrounds choose Fox for multiple reasons, such as staying close to family or work while continuing their education.

“I didn’t want to be far from home due to family issues,” Julia Talley, a sophomore and nontraditional student at UW-Fox, said.

Conversely, there is a population of students that attend Fox who are thousands of miles from home.

These students may experience cultural adjustment difficulties because they are far from their families and much of what was once familiar. Currently, UW-Fox has 22 international students from countries such as Nepal, Uganda and Peru.

Sarah Christensen, hired this fall semester to assist international students as International Student Coordinator, helps students adapt to the differences and challenges they may experience in coming from another culture.

“At first, everything may be intimidating,” Christensen said. “I help them filter things in this new environment.”

There are many challenges involved for international students, such as where to find health care, navigating the area’s transportation system or using English in a real-time setting and adapting to foreign social norms or even climate changes.

Some international students may come to UW-Fox with a different background regarding teacher-to-student interaction and may not feel comfortable approaching professors for help. This may be because UW-Fox promotes a more casual environment and smaller class sizes than in the classrooms of other schools.

“In other cultures, professors may not be as accessible to students, and, when they are here, they may feel uncomfortable asking them for help,” Christina Marty, director of the Writing Pad and senior lecturer of English, said.

Another issue that may be a problem for both international and nontraditional students is the area of technology. In fall 2015 interviews conducted for research purposes in the Writing Pad, many nontraditional students cited technological issues as their biggest setback or fear when returning to college.

“Technology assistance and online help for students is a must if [UW Fox administrators] want more adult students to enroll. Many students are not familiar with certain aspects of [technology]—especially older students who may not have learned much of it in school,” Talley said.

While there are some resources for those who are not familiar with D2L, Excel or Word programs, they are not well known among the student population and are often overlooked if a student is struggling. This means a student who is not familiar with these resources may have to be their own advocate and seek assistance, if needed.

“I am a strong proponent of self-advocacy. The help is there, a student just needs to look for it.” Marty said. “There are many resources available to all students, such as the Writing Pad, Math Labs and the Student Resource Center.”

Recently, international students displayed their cultures during International Student Week at a Nov. 17 event in the Student Union area. This event featured cultural food and games, helping students understand cultures of several international students at UW-Fox. Many students and professors attended this event.

Students get a taste of different cultures at UW-Fox’s International Student Week • photo by Debra Ruff

“There was a much better turnout than expected. I wasn’t sure if many would attend or stick around after the food was gone, but it was a successful event and a lot of fun for all students,” Christensen said.

Statistics given in the “Fact Book” published through The Office of Academic Affairs for 2013–14 indicate that 29 percent on the student population at UW-Fox were nontraditional students, meaning students age 22 or older, married or a veteran. Although nontraditional students make up almost a third of enrollment, they may not feel there are a lot of groups or activities at UW-Fox that include them.

“It feels like adult students aren’t really encouraged or given much information about getting involved in things,” Talley said.

Learning about different cultures is an important aspect of a well-rounded education. Both nontraditional students and international students can help traditional students in many ways by enabling them to see things outside their range of experiences. Both groups bring their own set of assets to the educational experience.

“Adult students have life experience, which is beneficial to younger students,” Marty said.

Regarding international students, Christensen feels that some may have stronger backgrounds in certain subjects and a drive to succeed as many use Fox as a stepping stone to UW Madison.

“These [international] students are very driven. They have come a long way for their education,” Christensen said.

In the cases of nontraditional and international students, both can help bridge the gap of cultural diversity in several ways as they can bring different cultures right to the classroom, which may be a benefit to other students, enabling them to see different viewpoints or perspectives both in and out of a classroom setting.

“Diversity in general teaches and helps you learn about your own,” Christensen said.

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