UI initiatives aim to help students feel welcome, share cultural experiences
Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sometimes, meeting a new person can be stressful because of the unknown. But that wasn’t the case for University of Iowa seniors Hyejung Kim and Jade Manternach.

Even though their hometowns are thousands of miles apart, Kim and Manternach say they knew their introduction through the International Buddies at Tippie program would go well because they already had at least two things in common—the desire to gain a new friend and learn from each other.

The program is one of several initiatives at the UI designed for students from U.S. states and students from other countries to meet, allowing them to share cultural experiences and helping international students adapt to campus life.

“I love hanging out and networking with people,” says Kim, an accounting and finance major from Seoul, South Korea. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet with people across cultures who willingly want to get to know each other's viewpoints.”

“I studied abroad in China for two weeks earlier this year and learned a lot from some fellow Tippie (College of Business) students who showed us around,” says Manternach, an entrepreneurial management major from Monticello, Iowa. “I was looking forward to having a buddy from South Korea, so I could gain a different perspective and also have the chance to do the same for her in Iowa City.”

Manternach and Kim were two of the 164 “buddies” to meet for the first time last week during the International Buddies at Tippie’s kickoff event. Sponsored through the Henry B. Tippie College of Business, the program matches international and domestic business and pre-business undergraduate students for a semester-long partnership.

UI programs helping cultivate cross-cultural connections
As the number of international students at the UI continues to rise, the campus remains committed to providing opportunities to promote interaction with domestic students. Other initiatives include the International Student Advisory Board, Friends Without Borders, and the Global Buddies program.

Interest in International Buddies at Tippie has grown nearly 46 percent over its inaugural semester. This semester, 82 international and 82 domestic students signed up. About two-thirds of the new domestic buddies are first-year students and part of the UI’s largest and most diverse class in history. In spring 2014, 112 buddies participated in the program.

“It’s been really exciting to see how many students are interested in participating,” says Jennifer Blair, assistant director of global community engagement at the Tippie College of Business. “We’re looking forward to the program continuing to grow and bringing more students together to foster relationships and provide support for one another.”

Blair says the idea to start International Buddies at Tippie came from the 14-member Global Engagement Student Advisory Board, which provides recommendations to the Undergraduate Program Office at Tippie about undergraduate internationalization efforts.

Yijun "Alice" Huang and Jessica Pawelski enjoy a cup of hot chocolate at Java House.

Yijun “Alice” Huang, one of the advisory board members and an accounting and finance major from China, participated in International Buddies last year. The third-year student who will graduate in May 2015 says she still keeps in touch her buddy, Jessica Pawelski, a UI senior business major from Chicago.

“The best part of meeting each other and being a part of this group was the lifelong friendship I gained,” says Pawelski. “I think we are very lucky to have a program like this, and I encourage anyone who is interested in making the most of their time here at the UI to give it a shot. I think it’s very important to be able to relate to students and down the line, coworkers, from different backgrounds.”

“I enjoy spending time with Jessica,” adds Huang. “We always share a lot of stories about our cultures and differences between our hometowns. We also help each other with academic work and have a major in common, so we’ll sometimes talk about our academic work and job opportunities.”

UI international student numbers still are being finalized, but Blair says about 900 international students are enrolled at the Tippie College of Business or declared as pre-business. She adds in 2013 about 23 percent of Tippie’s entire undergraduate population were international students, and total international student enrollment at the UI reached 4,049.

As for Huang and Kim, they have this advice for students who may be thinking of joining International Buddies at Tippie or any other UI program promoting friendships.

“Mingle with new people you never expected,” says Kim. “I think the best part about meeting Jade is that both of us are graduating seniors and now have the chance to get to know each other. I think we will be great partners in helping influence other people to get involved in the International Buddies program in the future.”

“Don’t be afraid to talk to other people. These programs are designed to help you get out of your comfort zone and learn a new culture,” says Huang. “Also, be sure to listen to your buddy and learn from them. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”