Event helps create diversity on campus

A certain beverage brings U.S. and international students together.

The Office of International Affairs hosts International Tea a few times a semester to help students meet others from different cultures.

But the Office of International Affairs struggles to attract American students to the events, said senior Brandie Monroe, Office of International Affairs social work intern.

Six or eight out of 50 students present at the last tea were American, said Coordinator for International Student Success Cala Flippo. But occasionally attendance is about even between American and international students, she said.

But since the teas started in 2014, students seem to enjoy them, Monroe said.

“The international students love (the teas),” she said. “Our difficulty is getting our American students to come.

“A lot of the American students don’t even know that we have an international building here at UNA. Our international students love American students, but they’re afraid to take that first step. So, the tea is kind of like a meeting place.”

The teas feature an individual country or several countries from the same continent. Students from the featured country or countries bring snacks, tea and oftentimes dress in their country’s traditional clothing and give a presentation on their culture, Monroe said.

The events help diversify campus, Flippo said.

“(The International Teas) really got started because we were looking for ways to assimilate domestic students, which is the word that we use for Americans with our international students,” Flippo said. “(UNA is) lacking a whole lot in diversity.

“So, my focus for my job is to assimilate (students) and to get people to realize you can benefit from each other. There’s a big world out there, and if you stay right where you are, you lose so much.”

Students should not shy away from meeting others from different backgrounds or cultures because it is beneficial, not only for their career but also to make new friendships, Flippo said.

“Employers and others are looking for well-rounded people, and so, we’re trying to help our students become more well-rounded,” Flippo said. “I just think that there’s so much out there that our average students are missing out on because they don’t venture out and say, ‘Hey, my name’s Cala. What’s your name? Tell me something about the country that you’re from.’”

Senior Brianna Hillmen said although she thinks UNA is pretty diverse, the campus would still benefit from more diversity.

Adding more diversity on campus through meeting students of different backgrounds is a positive experience because, “You learn how to work with different people, (and) you learn about different cultures and nationalities,” Hillmen said. 

Several of the countries the International Teas have featured are China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Brazil, Monroe said,

India will be the chosen country at the next tea, Nov. 3 at 3 p.m. in the Stone Lodge. The Shoals community is also welcome to attend the teas, Monroe said.

“We really want our American students and Americans in general throughout the Shoals to really have a desire to learn about different cultures to — for lack of a better term — be more cultured, open to different opinions, different ideas, different people groups,” she said.

Students can reach out to international students in other ways as well, even by just introducing themselves or eating lunch together, Flippo said.

“Something as simple as grabbing a meal means so much to them,” Monore said. “They’re like, ‘These people care about me. I feel like a part of a family.’”

Interacting with students from other countries is beneficial to students’ futures, said junior Blake Bean.

Students who have a diverse group of friends are, “more educated (and) ready for the real world,” Bean said.

Many international students are never invited to spend time with their American counterparts, Flippo said.

Another option for students to become involved is by becoming a Conversation Partner. Students meet every Thursday at 2:30 p.m. in Powers Hall and talk with an international student for an hour, Monroe said.