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Intercultural aides seek to close gaps between cultures

March 30, 2015

“He told me afterwards ... it was because of the relationship that I built with him throughout the year that he was comfortable enough to open up to me about what he was dealing with,” Moore, an intercultural aide for Hubbard Hall, said.

Getting to know students helps ICAs build trust, Moore said.

Supply chain management junior Jiarun Xing is a Chinese international student and an ICA for McDonel Hall who helps build relationships between his international and domestic residents.

He encourages his international residents to interact with domestic students through activities, clubs and part-time jobs.

“I tell my residents, my international residents just like lose their face, don’t think too much, just go talk to (domestic students), like be comfortable,” Xing said.

Lyman Briggs sophomore Rachel Linnemann, an ICA for Holmes Hall, said it’s an ICA’s job to make students feel comfortable in the dorms and at MSU.

“What I like about the program is that it’s all about growth,” Linnemann said. “You get as much back as you’re putting forth, so it’s kind of like a win-win situation,” she said.

Moore said an ICA’s main responsibility is to help first year students adjust.

“A lot of them [students] will have a hard time with adjusting to living on campus for the first time, or roommate conflicts are a pretty common thing also,” Linnemann said.

Moore said a roommate pair he had, a French student and a Chinese student, didn’t get along at first because of preconceived notions they had about the other. But Moore helped them learn that people can be more than their stereotypes, and now the pair are comfortable living together.

ICAs are often placed where they are going to benefit students the most. For example, McDonel Hall has a lot of Chinese students, so there are two Chinese ICAs, Xing said.

The job often involves knocking on students’ doors, and having a conversation with them, sometimes to check up on how they’re doing academically and socially, Xing said.

Though they all agree that their job is to help and encourage students, these ICAs experience a range of challenges in their jobs.

“It’s really hard to break somebody out of different stereotypes, because it’s just the way that they were raised,” Moore said. “It’s hard to change somebody’s way of thinking when they’ve learned it for the past 17, 18, 19 years of their life.”

Though one of Moore’s biggest challenges is opening up his residents’ minds, he said he gets through to most students.

Linnemann said time management is the biggest challenge for her because ICAs never clock off of their jobs.

She said her job usually doesn’t feel like work, describing it as more like learning.

Xing said some of his residents don’t really know how to interact with other people. He is often faced with closing the gap between domestic and international students.

Xing advises international students to speak up and get to know and befriend domestic students. He said this will help international students with their accents and language skills.

ICAs are more than a support for resident assistants, and act primarily as a resource for students.

“We’re more about making sure that the student is succeeding and getting the most out of their experience,” Moore said.

Linnemann said ICAs deal more with the social aspects of living in the dorms. ICA training is different than RA training, Moore said. ICAs learn more about dealing and interacting with people from different cultures.

“I think [the ICA position] attracts people who are really outgoing and that really want to... bring people together that may not seem fit at first, but show them that there are unique qualities that make us all the same and ... we can channel those qualities and build relationships on that, and it’s OK to be different and embrace that as well,” Linnemann said.


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