Following Beijing trip, REHS reevaluates MSU
Although Xin Zhao is more than 11,000 miles away from his home in Shenzhen, China, the marketing freshman said he feels right at home living at MSU.
“MSU is a multicultural university, and for each type of culture we have a place to stay here,” he said.
But since coming to MSU last fall, Zhao said he has recognized some of the cultural barriers facing international students who come to live and study at a foreign country.
These barriers can include adapting to the local language and food, understanding the direction of their academics, finding familiar extracurricular activities and conversing with the student and faculty community at MSU, said Monica Crissman, a community director at Rather and Bailey halls.
To become more accommodating, Crissman, along with other Residence Education and Hospitality Services, or REHS, members and student resident assistants, or RAs, spent spring break visiting the Beijing Normal University and Beijing Forestry University in Beijing. During the trip, the MSU ambassadors learned how to better integrate cultures at MSU and how to make international students feel more comfortable and at home while living on MSU’s campus.
REHS Director Kathy Collins went on the trip and said there is a growing international population at MSU, with the majority from China. International students make up about 12 percent of the residence hall population, she said.
By traveling to Beijing, Collins said the REHS members and RAs were able to witness first-hand the differences between Chinese universities and MSU. She said this has inspired her to make some changes at MSU.
“The biggest thing that struck us was how welcomed all of us felt. They were honored to have us there and even gave us gifts,” she said. “We do not give the same welcome to international students. So, one big thing we want to implement now is a more welcoming and homey feel for these students.”
After the trip, Crissman said she realized many of the ways MSU can improve is through communicating with proper signage of different languages in the buildings, offering more international cuisine options in the dining halls, providing more physical activities in the neighborhoods, such as tai chi, and making academic advising support more understandable.
Zhao said he has struggled to find proper academic advising at MSU, and he wishes the advisers were better at communicating with him.
“Sometimes we don’t have ways to connect with advisers and if they were more (accommodating) that would be very good,” he said.
Collins said when coming to MSU, international students might notice a big difference in the outlook on academic involvement. In China, college students’ schedules are more strictly dictated by their academics.
While touring one of the universities, the group visited a classroom filled with Chinese students 30 minutes before class was scheduled to start.
“Colleges in China are highly selective, so there is a different culture about going to school,” Collins said. “Chinese students have a different kind of stress because there is the need to be successful.”
Although Zhao said he could use a little more guidance, he has enjoyed what he said is a welcoming community of the MSU faculty and staff. He said he enjoys going to dinners and participating in activities with U.S. students.
Crissman also said there are engagement programs offered on campus, such as the International Coffee Hour, which takes place at 4 p.m. every Friday in the International Center, and Zumba classes that are offered in some of the residence halls.
“We have signage, but we can be better. We have cuisine offered, but we can have more. We have physical activities they can participate in, and we can not only have more, but we can alter them so that (international students) can (relate),” Crissman said, adding it also is important these resources are communicated to international students.
“We have the resources, and if the people aren’t utilizing them, to me, that’s concerning.”