Cultures collide at International Student Mixer

Lex Treinen/Sun Star Reporter
September 4, 2012

For many, the International Student Mixer on Wednesday, Aug. 29 in the Great Hall  was a first opportunity to meet the wide-eyed international students new to Alaska and share first impressions.  For Darja Springer it was a homecoming.  After spending a year as a exchange student at Tri-Valley High school in Healy over five years ago, Springer is back as a UAF student.

“I came back this summer to visit my host family and I just wanted to stay,” Springer said. Springer, who spent the 2005-2006 school year in Tri-Valley High School in

Maria and Cory work on breaking the ice during the International Welcome Mixer in the Great Hall in UAF. Sept. 4, 2012. Maleaha Davenport/ Sun Star

Healy, is one of hundreds of students who shared a meal in the Great hall. The event brought together international students and current UAF students preparing for journey abroad.

After a few presentations about acculturation and the services offered to international students from the Diversity and Equal Opportunity Office, students mingled and enjoyed the catered meal that included red white and blue tortilla chips and seasoned hummus.  “Everybody enjoyed themselves,” event organizer Nicole Balazs said.

According to Carol Holz, the Associate Director of the Office of International Programs on Immigration Compliance, this is the first year that UAF will welcome students from Saudi Arabia, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Zambia and Papua New Guinea. The expansion of online advertising has brought many of the new students, especially from countries like China and India where there is a lack of classroom space and the US is still viewed as the “gold standard” for higher education, Holz said.

Every student came with a unique story and every one seemed to have a different perception of Fairbanks, even those from the same culture. For Japanese students Koyo Mori, Keigo Saito and Hikaru Nakata, the winters are quite similar to the ones in Northern Japan, but they are excited to see some moose. Mori took Outdoor Adventure’s Wilderness Welcome camping trip.  Although he was disappointed not to see a moose or a bear, he looks forward to more opportunities in the future. Nakata looks forward to doing some skiing and snowboarding to make it through the winter. Saito was attracted to UAF specifically for the nature, and of course to see the Aurora.

Sitting at the table with the three Japanese students was Kristina Seidl. Seidl is preparing for a year abroad, where she will study Japanese and conduct research on her thesis. For Seidl, the mixer allowed her to connect with Mori, whose university she will be attending. They discussed the possibility of a rendezvous at the end of the year. “Now I wish I was staying,” she said. “I have made all of these friends.”

Though their backgrounds are diverse, the kindness of Fairbankseans was a sentiment shared by all the students. But first impressions can be deceiving. As the sun’s long summer sally will give way to December’s dreary darkness, these students will have to cope with Fairbanks’ winters, but at least now they will have a few companions to share the journey. Though some expressed the desire to try to meet more locals, inevitably they find themselves spending time with fellow foreigners who share their experiences.

“I feel nervous,” Mori said, but he now has Saito and Nakato, not to mention Seidl, to be nervous with.

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