JACKSON, Tenn. – Aug. 26, 2002– Taking a quick trip to Wal-Mart or spending the day at Bubba’s Bagels may not sound out of the ordinary for Union students who have lived in the United States all their lives, but for those who have not – it can be a very interesting experience the first time around.
Having to get used to a different culture that you will be living in for at least four years has its challenges. One student, Megan Johnson, the daughter of missionaries from Singapore, sees a major difference.
“I definitely miss the freedom that I had when I lived in Singapore,” Johnson says. “Over there I could take a bus all over town and be safe. My friends and I could stay out all night and not think about it. I can't do that over here."
Joanna Stillman, a third year FOCUS leader and a "missionary's kid" herself, understands what these new students are going through.
"The year I came to Union was the first they did a separate orientation for international students and MKs," says Stillman, a senior English major. "It was a great thing to have a network of people just like you to turn to. It was so overwhelming when the rest of the freshmen class came that I was glad to have my own network of friends."
Melinda Jordan, instructor of International Studies, has been with the orientation process since it started in 1999. She saw the need for a separate time for these students to get to know each other and their new home better. Having student leaders who understand the cultural differences is essential. In fact, almost all of this year’s FOCUS leaders were either MKs or international students themselves.
“It’s good for them to have other people that they can relate to and talk with,” Jordan explains. “It’s less intimidating if they have time to adjust to American culture and life at Union before they are thrown into all the activities of Freshmen Orientation Week.”
As part of their orientation, the students spent their first morning together eating breakfast and playing a “game” to help deal with one major aspect of life for a college student: dining out. The students were split into four groups and were handed a menu from a local restaurant. They had five minutes to come up with as many questions as possible to ask or that would be asked of them if they were eating out. Jordan explained that this exercise was a fun way of helping them understand the different types of food and customs that come with this common event.
“Eating out at a restaurant for the first time is one thing that creates a lot of anxiety for students who have been out of the country for a long time or for those who have never been to the United States before,” Jordan says.
This exercise was put into practice later on in the day when the group went out to eat at a favorite local Mexican restaurant, frequented by Union students, faculty and staff alike. They ordered from a menu and figured their tax and tip. Although most already knew how to order food, adding a 9.75 % sales tax was new to all.
What is not new to almost all of the students is the possible threat of war. This year’s group of MKs comes from all over the world, including war-torn countries. These students were abroad when the events of September 11th happened, but they felt the effects in their countries as well. One student living in a Muslim country had to stay at home because the school she attended received bomb threats daily. Others lived through similar experiences where they had to avoid going out for months afterward. Although some were dealing with the aftermath of September 11th , others have lived in countries that have been at war for years. No matter the country, each student brings with him or her a unique story, says Angel Ellis, an enrollment counselor at Union.
“One student and her family lived in Uganda, where her father was a doctor as well as a missionary,” explains Ellis. “Her father was a highly-paid doctor working in the U.S. who went from making a six-figure income to making a missionary’s salary.”
Another student lived with his family in Jerusalem for many years. According to Ellis, the Smith family lived in the war-torn city with the daily threat of suicide bombings and shootings, but Joel still calls the city his home.
“I am excited about this year’s groups of students,” says Carroll Griffin, assistant to the provost and director of admissions. “They add a unique element to Union’s campus and I believe they have actually adjusted better than I did as a freshman. I also believe that because of them, there is a better appreciation of other people. Students grow so much from meeting different types of people. It’s great that Union students get that opportunity.”
With such a unique and interesting group walking the halls of Union this year, the 2002-2003 year looks like it will be a great learning experience for all, inside and outside the classroom.
By Tracie Holden, Class of 2004
Sara B. Horn,