A Bosnian couple sat isolated in two folding chairs off to the side of the upper lounge in Van Campen Hall last Friday afternoon. The Fulbright scholars barely spoke at all, only exchanging a few quiet words between themselves.
Miroslav Pranic and Tatyana Babic had only been in America for 10 days. They didn’t know anyone else at this social event, so they sat alone and watched the other students interact.
After awhile, an adviser walked up to the couple and led them across the room where international student Viktor Tasevski sat talking to a couple of women. The adviser told Tasevski the couple spoke his native language.
Pranic introduced himself and the men slipped easily into a conversation. The once quiet couple became animated and excited.
Though the South Slavic words were unfamiliar to many, the wide smiles and rumbling laughter helped fuel the sense of community in the small room.
Students came to enjoy free ice cream and root beer floats that Kristi Campbell, assistant director of the Office of International Affairs, set out.
Campbell hosted the social to give international students the opportunity to interact with other international students who may have similar feelings because of their shared situations.
The room buzzed as students flitted about to greet friends. Besides an appetite for ice cream or a desire for social interaction, these students have at least one shared trait — they are all studying in a foreign land and trying to find their place at Kent State.
Aaron Banda, from Zambia, said many things in America were familiar because the world is a “global village.” When a lot is shared among countries, few things seem unusual.
But life in a foreign place seems to have at least some peculiarities. At the ice cream social, many students were reluctant to try a root beer float.
For Banda, the main difference is in the health trends in Africa compared to America. He has been studying at Kent State for a master’s degree in nursing education since last August, and he said disease trends between these countries seem to be “flipped.”
In Zambia, as in many African nations, HIV is the No. 1 killer, Banda said. Though HIV is present in America, it does not have the same impact as it does in Africa. Cancer is a high concern in America, but it is not as troubling in Africa.
Another difference Banda found is the scarcity of African food available in America.
“I cannot find my food,” he said.
One of his favorite dishes, nshima, is eaten twice a day in Zambia. This dish is a corn flour porridge topped with meat, vegetables and gravy. He said it is “the hamburger” of his country.
Phoebe Wu, from China, has also noticed some differences. She said she likes the availability of public services for children, senior citizens and disabled people.
Traffic lights were another oddity for Wu. In China, the traffic lights are attached to posts on the roadside, rather than strung through the middle of intersections.
Wu also said she sees a cultural difference in the way American people interact with each other compared to how Chinese people interact.
Americans always seem to act very nice to each other, even if they don’t really like the other person, but the Chinese are more reserved, she said.
The Office of International Affairs tries to make the transition a littler easier for international students through events where students can get together. Banda said he comes to the events whenever he can, and he has met many people through them.
“I’ve made a family,” Banda said of his friends. “I’m home.”
Contact honors and international affairs reporter Bethany English at [email protected]