ISSS seeks integration, culture for international students

The transition of international students from their home country to a university in the United States is not an easy one, especially at Geneseo, where the international population is approximately 170 students.

Dena Spanos, a senior Spanish and communication major, addressed this by creating an international pen pal organization through her internship at the International Student & Scholar Services Office.

Spanos’ program, which started just over a month ago, has about 30 accepted international students in communication with Geneseo students.

“It’s a great way to [help] an international student to get comfortable talking to an American student before coming here because that can be very daunting,” Spanos said.

The pen pals are matched through a short survey in which applicants list their major and interests. Usually major will dictate which students are paired up, but in undecided cases she tries to find similar interests. The Geneseo student sends the first email, and from then on, the conversation is in their hands. Some pen pals only send two or three emails to each other, while others become close friends.

Spanos originally noticed the need for better communication and services for international students in a class she took in the fall semester with associate professor of communication Atsushi Tajima. She realized that there were many “perceptional discrepancies between international and American students.”

“There’s not really enough support or personal attention to international students at this school,” Spanos said.

Geneseo cut its speech pathology program in 2010 and currently has only one professor who specializes in English as a second language. The current ISSS program has two faculty members: Director of ISSS Mary Hope and staff admissions intern Carly O’Keefe, along with a secretary and small handful of student workers.

These programs are small because of Geneseo’s relatively low amount of international students, but Spanos hopes that more programs will become available. She leads workshops for international students such as “What is American Culture?” and “American Humor.”

She also hopes to create some sort of club for international and American students to meet one another and talk about various topics. These “cultural cafes” would give students who already attend Geneseo a chance to meet new students and speak up in a comfortable environment.

“International students shouldn’t just be taught about American culture; it should be an exchange of ideas,” Spanos said. “We learn about them and they learn about us because it’s a more open way of learning.”

Another way for American and international students to interact is through the Speech Buddies program. Offered both independently and through INTD 388, the program matches a native English speaker with Speech Buddies and has them converse for an hour and 40 minutes every week.

“I can’t even explain how beneficial it is,” Spanos said.

Spanos is unsure of what will happen to these programs after she graduates because she independently manages the program and the cultural cafe is still conceptual, but she hopes the ISSS or a new intern will continue her work.