New organization aims to close cultural gaps

Jennifer Shore

A new organization launched this semester, America 101, aims to forge connections between American and international students.

The organization hosted a launch party with more than 300 attendees Saturday night.

“It’s something that I thought up last semester,” said America 101 founder Jason Steinberg.

As an English as a Second Language instructor at Kent State, Steinberg slowly realized international students were not getting to know the Americans. The international students stayed closely knit with each other instead of branching out. As a result, their English did not improve in the way Steinberg had hoped.

“It’s not really a matter of language, it’s a matter of culture,” Steinberg said.

He said he believes even though students may intellectually understand American culture, it is important to integrate it into their persona so they can deal with the nuances, subtleties and the complexities of college life. He said part of the experience of coming to a new country is getting involved with those who live there.

While studying German translation as an undergraduate, Steinberg found himself pursuing relationships with foreign students.

“We’re in a small town, and international people bring a variety and color and a lot of interesting things,” Steinberg said.

Although his personal passion for international relations proved to be enough to spur a new business, Steinberg recruited his sister Julia and his brother David. Steinberg said David is the creative one with technical skills, he is the teacher and Julia is in charge of public relations and marketing.

Julia, a Kent State graduate, spent the past few years working in New York City, where diversity is an everyday occurrence.

“I really do miss being part of a more diverse group of people and just living in a city where culture is something that is celebrated,” Julia said. “People don’t necessarily shy away from diversity here, but I think that they may be a little scared.”

Parties and other social gatherings provide the perfect environment for international and American students to get to know and understand each other, Jason and Julia said.

“I would ask everybody to be open-minded and to be excited to meet new people,” Julia said. “You never know who you might need, and you never know what you might have in common with somebody.”

The connections made between international students are invaluable in a business aspect, Jason said. International students are going to be important in their countries, he said, which is why they are here and in a self-serving way, it’s helpful to get to know them.

Breaking down barriers between the two groups is a factor that graduate student Carrie Circosta thinks is important.

“I think a lot of it is that American students do not know what to say, and international students are scared that there might be a language barrier,” Circosta said. “We need to do something more to bring the two together.”

America 101 is still in the process of expanding and planning future events. Steinberg hopes social events, individual consultations and a course of study are in the future. Since they are in the beginning stages, all three siblings are not doing anything business-wise.

Jason encouraged students to visit, have confidence and make new friends.

“Go say hi to somebody you don’t know. Take a chance. Smile at somebody. It goes a long way,” Julia said. “It’s going to be a really good thing.”

Contact arts and sciences reporter Jennifer Shore at [email protected].