Cultural exchange in our own backyard

By Mac Crane

The first line of the Pitzer mission statement vows to produce “socially responsible citizens of the world.” For many students this means studying abroad, conquering ethnocentrism, and working to improve the lives of people in the surrounding community. But there is another way to experience different people and cultures and you don’t even have to leave campus.

Twenty-three exchange students are at Pitzer from sixteen different countries, including Botswana, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Ecuador. The Study Abroad office is working to make the students transition as comfortable as possible, in addition to students and faculty.

Kebokile Dengu-Zvobgo, associate dean of international programs, says the biggest challenge for exchange students is overcoming culture shock and making friends in the student community.
“In an ideal world, I’d ask our students to be on the lookout,” Dengu-Zvobgo says. “It’s good, but it could be better. I would like the whole community to actually engage internationals.”

Students can get involved by becoming a Global Friendship Alliance “buddy.” The program pairs native Pitzer students with exchange students. “It’s for purposes of adjusting to culture,” Dengu-Zvobgo says. GFA buddies are encouraged to meet with their exchange students at least once a week. To volunteer, contact GFA@pitzer.edu.

“I haven’t met anyone yet who was not helpful or unfriendly,” says Kai Ozaki, a student on exchange from the University of Koblenz-Landau, in Germany. “As soon as I had gotten over my initial shyness, I’ve had no problems finding friends here.”

This is Ozaki’s first trip to the U.S., but he has found the Study Abroad office to be very supportive. “Kebokile is also very helpful and goes beyond the stuff she has to do,” he says. “I barely even mentioned that I was kind of sad that I couldn’t bring my guitar on the plane, and she shows up the next day for our weekly lunch, handing me the car keys and saying, ‘By the way Kai, in the trunk is my guitar. You can have it for the semester.’ I am really amazed how nice everyone is.”

Every Monday, the exchange students meet for lunch in the private dining room and learn about the resources on campus. “We try to create a cooperative learning environment,” Dengu-Zvobgo says. “Students help each other navigate the intercultural journey they are on.”

As in previous years, the exchange students will host showcases in the dining hall every week to share their cultures. Pitzer students who have studied abroad are encouraged to join them and discuss their own experiences. The showcases will also be a source of information for students still making up their minds about where to study abroad.

“The world comes to us,” Dengu-Zvobgo says. “I think we need to take that opportunity to learn about what is literally right on our doorstep.”

Leave a Reply