International House to combine cultures


Face-to-face encounters between people from different cultures are becoming more frequent – UNF students, for example, come from 66 different countries – but that doesn’t always mean understanding
is reached.

Different values, beliefs, religions and worldviews often make it difficult for people to make themselves understood in another culture.  But later this year, a new UNF housing program will give students a chance to build understanding between cultures.

In the program, international and U.S. students will become roommates, giving them the chance to learn about each other’s cultures and experience the world.

UNF’s new International House will open its doors in fall 2009 and will be located on the second floor of the Osprey Cove housing complex. It will house 50 students in 25 rooms.

Students selected to live in the house will also be able to receive $500 scholarships in the Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 semesters.

The scholarship should help those students who are hesitant to live on campus because of the costs, said Bonnie Richardson, study abroad coordinator at the International Center.

“We’re thinking that those students who are off-campus, this is a new offering for new housing that will bring them back,” he said. “It’s an incentive to bring students back.”

Students will have the chance to live together and learn more about one another, said Dr. Timothy Robinson, director of the International Center.

The first thing the International House is going to do is deliberately room a U.S. student with one from another country, Robinson said.

This arrangement will help the 250 international students on campus learn more about the country and make American friends, Robinson said.

As for the U.S. students, they will become more aware of the world around them and more culturally sensitive, he said.

Senior business management major Fiona Rajandran, who is originally from Malaysia, lived with two American roommates when she first transferred to UNF. She said her roommates helped her adjust to the American culture and lifestyle.

“They just made it easier for me,” she said. “If I had any problems in my classes, I would ask what [was] going on, what does this mean. They definitely helped me out in some ways.”

Her roommates also learned a lot about Rajandran and her culture, she said.

Other international students at UNF said they believe living with someone from another culture can help dispel stereotypes students have about others.

“Americans have a lot of misconceptions about other countries,” said Byll-Cataria, junior computer security major and International Student Association president  who came to UNF from Togo.

“That’s one of the goals of the international organizations on campus – to just try to make Americans realize what they think about other countries is not the case.”

Bonnie Richardson, study abroad coordinator at the International Center, said events will be scheduled at the house every week to engage and unite the students.

“We’re definitely talking about doing some excursions and trips with the International House,” Richardson said. “[It gives] the international students the opportunity to see locations in Florida, and gives the domestic students the opportunity to share American culture with the international students.”

So far, 22 U.S. students have applied and shown interest. As for the international exchange students, they will start school in the fall and will be automatically assigned to a room, Robinson said.

One of these domestic students, junior French and psychology major Lauren Sundstrom, has lived abroad in London and France and said she prefers to live with people from other cultures.

“It doesn’t get boring,” Sundstrom said, who decided to move to UNF after living off-campus.

Meetings will be scheduled throughout the semester to interview students for their input and what they would like to see at the house, Robinson said.

The International House is still in the process of being finalized as far as eventual program, Robinson said. The International Center is also working in conjunction with advising, related academic areas and
Residence Life.

As of right now, the International Center is targeting the International House for sophomores, juniors and seniors as those are typically the ages and academic levels of the incoming exchange students, Robinson said.

The possibilities of opening the International House to freshmen, students from the English Language Program and current international students on campus are going to be considered after the finalizing of the main application process, Robinson added.

Byll-Cataria said the inclusion of the International House will benefit UNF in the long-run.

“I think it’s one of the brightest ideas on campus right now,” he said. “This just means that this university is willing to learn from other people.”

E-mail Laura Franco at [email protected]