Global Education Summit discusses how to bring multi-cultural atmosphere to downtown

Prominent members of the community met at Kent State’s 2012 Global Education Summit to discuss what is being done to encourage globalization beyond campus.

Roger Di Paolo, editor of the Record Courier, said international students have brought a lot to Kent, not just economically but also in “diversity of perspective.” He said Kent hosts students from about 195 countries.

Dave Ruller, Kent city manager, is aware of the lack of options some students have for shopping and dining and understands the need for “multi-cultural flavor” in the community.

“It’s a food desert for international food,” he said.

Mary Anne Saunders, executive director of the Office of Global Education, said international students aren’t having good experiences with the options they have. She said students come to Kent with two suitcases and a small bag. They want to go to Wal-Mart, but have trouble finding what they need.

Saunders said she wants to suggest that Wal-Mart provide maps in Chinese and Arabic to help the students navigate around the store, but she cannot get in contact with anyone to help her accomplish this goal.

Lori Wemhoff, executive director of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce, said Wal-Mart helped with Discover Downtown during Welcome Weekend at Kent State and plans to try to “open the lines of communication” between Kent State and Wal-Mart on this issue.

Ruller said he hopes the esplanade expansion and downtown development will live up to its potential and be an asset to helping international students safely wonder off campus.

He said that was the inspiration for getting new sidewalks and crosswalks along Route 59. Some international students are used to walking on the side of the road or across the street at their leisure. The new features will help keep them safe, especially at the intersection of Route 59 and Water Street, where the sun can obscure the vision of drivers as they drive over the bridge, Ruller said.

Bob Mayfield, owner of McKay Bricker Framing, said he enjoys seeing international students in his store, but wishes he could do more for them. He said they sometimes ask for iPhones or perfume, which are things that aren’t sold downtown. Mayfield has had to direct them to Macy’s in Stow or Wal-Mart. He said he’d like to know what kind of products the students are looking for when they shop.

Mayfield said one of his fears is being unable to understand the different cultures of students who come into his store. He said he sometimes wonders if members of the community are creating barriers by unintentionally offending them.

“We need to be sensitive to the needs of international students,” Di Paolo said.

Wemhoff said she thinks it’s important to communicate to the students that there are places for them to visit downtown, such as Laziza, Popped and The Artic Squirrel. There is an international market downtown, Wemhoff said. Students just need to know that they have these options.

Di Paolo said Kent has had an immigration presence for more than 100 years and it has greatly enhanced the community. Domestic students are learning to be more tolerant of others as they experience different cultures.

Kent is an area that has been attracting immigrants from various cultures for many years, Di Paolo said. It’s important to figure out what works to integrate people into the community and make them want to stay in Kent.

Contact Rachel Hagenbaugh at [email protected]