International Center Welcomes Students "Home"

by Kayla Johnston ’16

Step inside the doors of Azusa Pacific's International Center, and you quickly see why they call all who enter “family.” On any given day, you can find Styrofoam boxes of Chinese takeout covering the table, music playing loudly (with dancing, if you’re lucky), and international and American students sitting on couches laughing, chatting, sharing a meal, and even napping. The International Center is more than an office to these students—it’s home.

With more than 300 international students enrolling at Azusa Pacific University each year, the need for individual care is great. Students representing countries from around the world—most from Asian countries—attend APU and experience a transition unlike that of a student coming from within the United States. International students face a different set of challenges as they acclimate to not only the APU community, but also to American culture. The International Center strives to assist these students through the challenges of culture shock, helping them navigate the chaos of not just starting college, but also, for many, living in America for the first time.

Sue Clark, director of the American Language and Culture Institute, one of three branches of the International Center, says adjusting to American culture is one of the biggest challenges international students face.

“We work with them to learn the silent rules of our culture, whether it’s dress standards or how to speak politely to a teacher, as well as how to ask for help when needed,” Clark said.

Even the little things that an American student may not think twice about may become a challenging task for international students. “We set up study schedules, help them learn to manage money on their own, and navigate social media,” adds Clark.

To assist with this transition, the International Center hosts International Student Orientation the week before the start of each semester, allowing international students to connect and acclimate to campus before the rush of students hits. During that time, students attend various information sessions, ranging from safety to academics.

“Orientation is a time to help the students get cell phones, bank accounts, ID cards, and tour the campus. We try to connect them with other people and volunteers so when they start going through hard times they don’t feel so alone,” said Mary Grams, director of International Students and Scholars, another branch of the International Center.

Once here, International Students and Scholars comes alongside the international community to provide on-going support throughout their APU experience, from academic assistance and special events to International Chapel and the American-International Mentoring program (AIM). This mentoring program pairs international students with an American student, faculty, or staff member who commits to meeting with them one-on-one, once a week. These meetings are designed to connect the student with someone they can learn from, open up to, and have fun with.

The International Center encourages every American student to sign up to be an AIM partner. “Especially if you are preparing to study abroad, it’s a great opportunity to get to know a new culture,” Grams adds.

She emphasizes the relationship between international and domestic students on campus, encouraging the APU community to reach out and engage those who may feel disconnected. “We are the host to these guests, so we should approach them and be the initiator because it’s much harder as the guest to do that,” Grams said.

Whether it's attending International Chapel on Friday mornings, signing up to be an AIM partner, having a conversation with an international student in class, or even stopping by to introduce yourself, the International Center wants students to know that everyone is welcome in their "family."