Friday, April 27, 2007
International Allies wraps up first year
|Maya Forni (left) and Reluca Szabo (right) roast marshmallows with Szabo's family in their fireplace on Easter. Szabo and Forni were paired up as part of the International Allies program.|
By Rebecca Wyatt Thomas, OU Web Writer
Maya Forni, an exchange student from France, would probably have spent Easter alone if it weren’t for Raluca Szabo. As part of the International Students and Scholars’ program International Allies, the two were paired up and became friends. For Easter, Szabo invited Forni to her home and they did something Forni hadn’t done in ages — painted Easter eggs.
In addition to painting eggs, this semester Forni and Szabo went to Meadow Brook Hall, attended International Night and the Gay Straight Alliance Drag show and went bowling with other International Allies participants. They also hung out, worked out in the Rec Center and developed a friendship.
“Not only do I have a friend now, but I also know if I go to France she’ll be there for me,” said Szabo, a freshman who hopes to study internationally in the future.
International Allies provides international and domestic students with new cultural experiences through social events and individual outings. Students in the program are paired up according to gender and interest. If an American student plans to travel to or learn more about a certain country, ISSO will try to match them with a student from that country.
“This program is beneficial to all students. The international students can learn where the grocery stores are, where the movie theatres are and practice their English,” said Petra Knoche, assistant director of International Students and Scholars. “The domestic students learn about a new culture and help a fellow student. Many students have never been overseas and this can be one way to learn to appreciate different cultures.”
Knoche, who was an international student herself, knows the importance of a domestic ally.
“When I was a student, I had a host family, but if anyone wanted to take me to the mall or to just go out, it was the best thing ever,” Knoche said.
More than 60 students signed up for the program this year, including Derek Zamborowski who was paired up with Claire Richard, a student from France.
“We are friends now. We do normal things that friends do,” said Zamborowski. “I’m going to school in France in the fall and Claire was able to answer a lot of my questions, which makes it easier.”
Richard will also be in France this fall attending law school so the two plan to meet while they are there and Richard and introduce Zamborowski to her culture firsthand.
|International Allies program participants went bowling to celebrate the program's first year.|
Taran Dhaliwal transferred school 14 times as a child. He moved to Detroit recently from Louisiana to pursue his master’s degree in engineering management. In an effort to make new friends here, he joined International Allies and was paired up with Bonnie Baker.
Since Baker was a member of the women’s basketball team, Dhaliwal went to the basketball games to cheer her on and got to meet her parents. In addition, they would talk and met up a few times.
“It was pretty easy settling down with her and making conversation. She was cool and we were able to hang out and learn more about each other,” said Dhaliwal.
Baker said they went to men’s basketball games and got together to watch their favorite shows, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “American Idol.”
“The International Allies program has really opened my eyes to a different culture. It was very interesting to learn how someone from a different country adapts to living in the United States,” Baker said.
Dhaliwal informally had students at his other schools who would do things like this with him too. He said they introduced him to hunting and even took him home for Thanksgiving so he wasn’t alone.
Forni said the domestic allies have also helped her with problems on campus, such as dealing with airplane ticketing issues.
“I’d like to see the program go a little further,” said Forni. “It would be nice to visit some other places like Chicago or Niagara Falls with the American students we are friends with.”
International Allies is looking to become a recognized student organization next year and obtain funding to host more events. Szabo is one of the students working on developing the organization after having such a rewarding experience with it this year.
“It seemed like a wonderful program to get to know some of the students at Oakland that I wouldn’t get to know otherwise and learn about their culture,” Szabo said. She learned about the program at New Student Convocation. “With so much globalization going on, it’s nice to have friends everywhere. Because of the program, I met people from India, China and all over the world and it’s amazing how similar everyone is. International Allies is also a good way to get another perspective about what is going on in the world.”
Students interested in participating in the program should contact Knoche at (248) 370-3358 or email@example.com to provide a brief biography, interests, language experience and contact information.
“Any student can participate in OU International Allies. Undergraduate, graduate students, Ph.D. candidates — anyone who can expose the international students to local and campus culture,” said Knoche.