Kennesaw State Faculty Welcome Fulbright Students to the U.S.
October 19, 2015
“You are all constant ambassadors for your home countries,” Kennesaw State University Vice-Provost for Global Affairs Dr. Lance Askildson tells an auditorium full of international students in Prillaman Hall.
“Whether you like it or not, you may be the only person from your home country that a large number of Americans will have ever met…It’s going to be a real challenge sometimes, but it’s important to remember that you are representing not just yourselves, but your societies, cultures and nations.”
Askildson offered these words of advice in August to a group of 61 international graduate students participating in the Fulbright Gateway Orientation hosted by Kennesaw State University. The students came from more than 40 different countries. Following the orientation, they traveled to universities around the country to begin their graduate studies under the Fulbright scholarship program – the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program.
Gateway Orientations are sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the Institute of International Education. The goal of Gateway orientations is to introduce incoming Fulbright Foreign Students to U.S. culture and to provide them with important lessons on how to succeed within the American academic system.
A Competitive Grant Process
Kennesaw State won the right to host the Gateway orientation thanks to a grant proposal to the U.S. Department of State compiled by the Division of Global Affairs’ Grant Specialist Peggy Kiernan. Kiernan, working with a team of faculty, put together a compelling proposal highlighting the University’s achievements in globalization throughout the past ten years.
Their efforts resulted in Kennesaw State University being one of only ten universities around the country to host Fulbright Gateway orientations this year.
“It’s been a fairly long road for KSU,” Kiernan told the students during the orientation’s opening remarks, “but we did it because we strongly believe not only in our ability to give you a great orientation, but also in your ability to enrich our campus community.”
Sessions Stress Intercultural Communication
During the four-day orientation, Kennesaw State faculty led a series of information sessions addressing issues foreign students might face in the United States. The students learned about the independent nature of U.S. graduate classes, about the importance American universities place on academic integrity, and, perhaps most importantly, how to interact with their American classmates.
Dr. Daniel Paracka, Director of Campus Internationalization for Kennesaw State’s Division of Global Affairs and the orientation’s content specialist, designed the workshop sessions to emphasize the need for strong intercultural communication skills.
“Intercultural communication is one of the key elements you will need for a successful experience, a successful adjustment, and to be a successful ambassador for your home country,” he said during the orientation’s opening remarks.
He asked the students to be mindful of stereotypes and misconceptions they may have about Americans, and that Americans may have about them.
“A lot of assumptions about others are based on stereotypes,” Paracka said. “Often those stereotypes are negative, which will obviously cause problems and misunderstandings. But, it’s not just negative stereotypes that cause problems. Sometimes even positive stereotypes can have unintended negative consequences.”
He encouraged the students to engage with their American classmates on an interpersonal level, which will help both sides overcome the effects of stereotypes.
From One Fulbrighter to Another
In addition to learning from Kennesaw State faculty, the international students also received tips directly from current and former Fulbright students during a lighthearted Talk Show-style information session.
Four current Fulbright Foreign Students – two studying at Georgia State University and two studying at Georgia Institute of Technology – gave the incoming international students the benefits of their own experiences, including advice on how to adjust to the host culture, how to balance social life with academic life, and how to live on a budget. One of the presenters humorously advised the incoming students to take advantage of Black Friday sales at U.S. retailers on the day after Thanksgiving, remarking that waiting in line for five hours is worth it to get a 32-inch television for $200.
The session was co-led by Dr. Chien-Pin Li, Associate Dean for Curriculum and Technology and a political science professor, and by former Fulbright scholar Dr. Todd Harper, Director of KSU Programs in Tuscany and an associate professor of English. In 2003-2004, Harper received a Fulbright grant to teach and conduct research at Ionian University in Greece, where he studied the connections between classical and contemporary Greek rhetoric.
“My own orientation was not as much fun as this one,” Harper joked, “though it was memorable for the glorious feeling I had for being in-country.”
Harper especially appreciated the sense of camaraderie he developed with the incoming Fulbright students over the course of his session and the rest of the orientation.
“They really enjoyed the format that Dr. Li and I set up,” he said. “They laughed, had fun, and exchanged some valuable information. Moreover, the orientation was an overall success. I could especially tell at night when we had dinner with the students. They were engaged with one another sharing stories about their own cultures and the research they would be doing in the U.S.”
The Student Experience
Throughout the orientation, the Fulbright students’ excitement for starting their U.S. graduate studies was palpable.
“This was my dream,” said Dieudonne Bidashimwa, a student from the Democratic Republic of Congo who attended the orientation before going to study public health at the University of Alabama. “The U.S. is the most developed country in the world. I wanted to come here and acquire knowledge that is not available in my country, and then go back and apply what I learn there.”
Bidashimwa plans to return to the Congo after his graduate studies and work to improve mortality rates for mothers and infants.
The Fulbright students also had positive things to say about their time at Kennesaw State.
“The people here are very warm,” said Debanshu Roy, an Indian student studying public health at the University of Texas. “And the way the professors interacted with us was really engaging on an intellectual level. We never felt like there was a power dichotomy between students and professors. It was really cool that way.”
“[The orientation] was an amazing experience and a great way to start my American life,” said Eliana Anotnio from Angola. She is studying business at Layola University. “I can’t believe the effort you have put forth to make us feel welcome.”
Although the Fulbright students were only at Kennesaw State University for a week, the Fulbright Gateway Orientation provided them with a great deal of knowledge and cultural awareness that will prepare them to live and study in the U.S.
Based on the success of the 2015 orientation, Kennesaw State University plans to apply with the IIE to host future Fulbright Gateways.