By Brady Meyring
With the flags of 34 nations forming a semi-circle on the lawn in front of the Student Services Building, COM President David Wain Coon stepped up to hit a giant gong and officially declare the opening of the college’s first International Education Week. The flags represent the nearly three dozen countries that COM’s 100 international students come from.
Approximately 75 guests attended the event, which signals the growing role that ethnic diversity plays at the college.
This is a breakout year for International Education at College of Marin. As recently as three years ago, programs for enhancing international student life and retention were sparse or non-existent. International students contributed to college life and academics but with little formal recognition or centralized support. There was also no office coordinating the effort to infuse global perspectives and intercultural exchange into post-secondary education at COM.
When Jason Lau was appointed the director of International Education, in September 2011, all of that began to change.
Since Lau’s hiring, the groundwork has been laid for programs that promise to profoundly affect the entire student body and the college as a whole.
“Together with Lau, we are really trying to raise the bar,” Coon said, “and put an extra, additional emphasis on our international program from recruiting more students, just in general, from all parts of the world but also making the students’ experience better and more of a quality experience all around,” said President Coon.
During spring semester 2013, around 100 international students attended either the Intensive English Program (IEP) in Indian Valley or credit classes in Kentfield. This number represents 5 percent of the total student population and according to Lau, in 5 years “we probably will double, if not triple, in size.”
International Education Week is perhaps the most visible of the efforts to internationalize the COM campus. International Education Week is an initiative of the Departments of State and Education and has been celebrated at colleges and universities across the country since 2000.
This year’s International Education Week at COM, held between November 12 and 15, was a well-balanced mixture of fun, entertainment, intellectual enrichment and of course, international food.
“This week brought an awareness of international education to not only our student population but to everyone here at COM. It shows the diversity of our growing community and the acceptance, understanding and excitement of this new, globally-enriched world we live in,” said International Student Advisor Rebecca Freeland.
Following the opening ceremony much of the audience stayed to watch the “friendship games” held on the quad. Two mixed teams of American and international students amicably battled in four events: a team ski race, a balloon popping game, a rope-ball transfer challenge, and finally, tug-of-war. All participants were rewarded with ice cream and the games helped set the tone for the week’s theme of intercultural exchange and friendship.
Lunch time on the first day featured free Chinese, Japanese, Puerto Rican, Korean and Turkish foods sponsored by ASCOM and the International Education Office.
“I’m enjoying the free food,” commented international student Troy Emano, “It feels nice because I’ve only been here for two months. I came from the Philippines.”
After eating, a large crowd gathered to watch the nine members of Capoeira Mandinga of Marin perform in the center of the cafeteria. Capoeira is a martial-art-dance and the audience was clearly mesmerized by their acrobatic moves and improvisation.
The first day was completed with an international education information fair in the Deedy Staff Lounge and an exciting fashion show on the quad featuring nine models.
“To see our students proudly wear the traditional dress from their home country was amazing,” said Freeland. “You have to remember that our international students are extremely far from home, but for that day they were able to share a piece of their home with us here, and it was truly touching.”
Staff from Greenbrae’s Peet’s Coffee & Tea were present after the show to provide complimentary tastings of international coffees and teas.
Tuesday, November 13, the second day of International Education Week was also packed with activities. A workshop on “crossing cultures” was held and a hands-on demonstration of making spring rolls took place in the cafeteria.
“The cooking demonstration was fun as students were taken out of their comfort zone and asked to make something new,” said International Education Administrative Assistant Valerie Marckwordt.
After lunch, college employee Jesse Klein, and her husband Mike, sang two songs in Tagalog, a language of the Philippines. This moment was made even more moving by the recent typhoon and loss of life in that island nation. The second day was rounded out with classes in both Hula and Bollywood dance which were attended by a small but enthusiastic number.
The final day of International Education Week was no let-down. A panel discussion was held in Deedy on the topic of “Adjusting to Life in a Foreign Country.”
Four international and one American student spoke candidly and revealingly about their personal experience with cultural adaptation. The engaging conversation lasted for an hour and a quarter but could have easily continued longer.
Next, Chinese calligraphy practice, under the direction of Chinese and ESL Professor Shuyu Liu, had students crowding the tables set-up in the Student Services Building entryway.
The closing event of International Education Week was a competition called the World Trivia Challenge. Five teams of students answered questions over five rounds and the winners received gift certificates from Sol Food Restaurant and Barnes & Noble.
Commenting on the entire week, student Peter Tallo said, “It’s been pretty fun, a lot of interesting people. It gets me away from my studies. I was walking around and I had no idea it existed. I saw some signs and it sounded good, so I got involved.”
Because this was the first year, many students may have been taken by surprise by this new, multi-day event. But one thing is certain, International Education Week is here to stay and according to Freeland, “This will soon become the event that everyone looks forward to year after year.“
Another initiative of the International Education Office that has been gaining momentum is the Conversation Partners Program open to anyone in the college community wanting to practice another language or make an international friend.
The Conversation Partner Program features an online registration form where brief biographical information is submitted and used to help the International Education Office match participants. Once a match has been achieved, partners meet when able for informal conversation practice. Currently the database holds over two dozen potential language partners.
The development of this program is not only a tremendous asset for international students at COM but also for domestic students engaged in foreign language study or planning to travel overseas.
“I think it has the potential to certainly enrich the international student experience here at COM and hopefully we’ve got some domestic students that are actually participating in the program because then I think that the opportunities would be two-fold,” said President Coon.
The program’s first conversational meet-up took place on November 4. To help kick-off the program, Coon agreed to meet with Mariana Weber, an international student from Brazil, for a lunch conversation at Woodlands Café in Kentfield.
“It’s very scary to come to a different country without knowing what you’re talking about and without knowing people so I really hope that this can help international students. I’m very proud to be a part of this,” said Weber.