Do you remember your first day of high school or college, the day you started a new job, or moved to a new town – that insecure feeling of not knowing what is going to happen and not being familiar with things? Then, imagine moving to a foreign country, where everything is completely different. Hamza Salameh, a junior engineering student from Jordan, remembers thinking that the food was very different and everyone was eating with a fork and a knife, which he was not used to. Something as simple as eating a meal became an interesting cultural experience for him. Thanks to the help and support offered by the University of Hartford’s International Center and its network of international students already living on campus, he adapted more quickly to the culture. “I wasn’t by myself. There were other people that faced the same problems. We were like one family,” says Salameh.
The University’s International Center has a long tradition of helping international students both socially and academically. Every year, it hosts several events for international students, where they can connect with other people and practice their language skills. “The International Center gave me strength to believe in myself and helped me connect with other students,” says Krishna Kancharla, a second year graduate student in mechanical engineering from India. This year, the University celebrates its 30th anniversary of the International Festival, which promotes cultural diversity and intercultural learning.
Not only does the International Center focus on the social challenges international students face, it also works closely with faculty to make sure that all students get the help and support they need academically, says Richard Lazzerini, associate director and international student advisor at the International Center. The International Center has an open-door policy, where students can get advice and voice their concerns.
“When I first came here, I think I stopped by Mr. Richard’s (Lazzerini’s) office five times just asking questions about the University and the city. They were always willing to help,” says Aseel Shawli, a senior communication student from Saudi Arabia. Shawli also remembers that during her first semester, she thought it was weird to raise her hand and express her opinion, as she was used to listening to lectures and taking notes. Her teachers helped her to comprehend what was expected of her and also showed understanding of her background.
“It is all about building trust and showing the international students that there is a mutual purpose. We are here to help them and guide them through the process,” says Hisham Alnajjar, associate dean in the University of Hartford’s College of Engineering, Technology, and Architecture. Alnajjar is one of the University’s many international faculty members and because of his background, he feels that he understands the challenges that international students face.
International faculty members as well as 580 international students from 68 different countries (representing 8.4% of the University’s total student population) creates an intercultural learning environment with opportunities to gain knowledge and share different perspectives. “This is truly essential in a globalized world because different perspectives on the same issue can bring different solutions,” says Alnajjar. He goes on to explain that this high level of diversity is beneficial for all students, as they get to experience what it is like to work with people from different cultures, learn to respect various opinions, and that disagreement is acceptable.
“You can learn a lot from others and they can learn from you. This knowledge is very useful, as it will provide me with opportunities in future jobs”, says Kancharla.