Friends from far and wide
April 9, 2015
Matthew Scott lives in downtown Albany and commutes by bus every day to his classes at the University at Albany. He eats the food offered on campus and chats with any friendly face he comes by, because to him that is the best way to meet new friends. It isn’t apparent that Scott just moved to the United States from India three years ago as part of the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at UAlbany.
Scott, now a senior double majoring in accounting and business administration, says making friends wasn’t always so easy. As somebody who only attended the last day of his UAlbany orientation, Scott was already at a disadvantage. That, coupled with his lack of understanding American English, did not help the process.
“I had to find out things on my own. I didn’t even know what the ISSS office was. I was a bit clueless at that point,” Scott said. Laughing, he continued, “I couldn’t understand what pancakes were or what waffles were.”
Around 1,700 students are involved in the international student program at UAlbany, explained Michael Elliot, the director of ISSS. Out of the 97 countries which UAlbany hosts in the international studies program, India, China, and South Korea send the most students. These numbers are in line with most universities’ international studies programs in the United States, Elliot said.
“One thing we try to work towards is bringing American students together with international students because one of the best ways to get to know a culture is building individual relationships,” he said.
To do this, ISSS holds programs and has clubs. One is Cultural Connections, which strives to bring American students together with international students. It was founded by graduate student Ami Jordan, who is in the Asian and Asian American Studies program at UAlbany.
Two other programs are International Friendship Partners and the Buddies Program, in which American students and international students begin writing to each other before the international student comes to UAlbany. Hypothetically, they will continue their friendship in person once the international student arrives here.
Scott joined other clubs, like the Sankofa Africa Association, where he was the Treasurer last year. He learned about other cultures and helped raise awareness for impoverished parts of Africa through fundraising and other activities. He also met friends through other friends, and from there his circle of acquaintances grew. He learned many things from the people he met – one of the most important things being the word “please.”
“I was so rude when I came here,” Scott said. It’s not that India is rude, it’s just that please isn’t in the vocabulary, he explained. After he learned the word, his friends had to stop him from excessively applying the word when meeting people.
Not all international students take up the adventurous do-it-yourself approach as Scott did. Yumi Nakada, a second-year Japanese international student, who is known for her always smiling face, utilized the programs offered by the ISSS.
She decided to study in Albany to improve her English and also because she liked the diversity of the area. She explained that Albany is relaxing because of its proximity to nature. She majors in sociology but her department specifically focuses on culture, media and society. Nakada did attend her international student orientation, unlike Scott.
American studies are more individual, while Japan is more focused on group activity, she said. Elliot explained that this has to do with the different cultures, stating that American people are individualistic while people in Japan, like other countries such as India and China, are more collective.
Nakada has two buddies through the Buddies Program. One is a freshman American student studying Japanese. The other buddy is an American student who went to Japan to study, but they stay in contact.
“I didn’t have any connections before coming here,” she said. When she has troubles she can ask her buddy for help, who always gives good advice and can make her feel relaxed, Nakada said.
Along with the Buddies Program, she is also a member of the Japanese Student Association as well as the Frisbee Club team. The Japanese Student Association is a way for American students in the club to learn about Japanese culture, food, and tradition, and vice versa.
“The more close you get, the more in depth those discussions become about… the differences between the cultures and upbringing rather than just food differences or dress differences but going in-depth to religion and politics and family,” Elliot said.