The Daily Illini

Integrating Illinois

By Abby Paeth, Staff Writer


From applications to acceptance letters and finally moving into the dorms, starting college is a major milestone in everyone’s life. But what many people forget to remember is that some students aren’t only adjusting to college life, but also to American culture.

In the 2014-2015 academic year US News listed the University of Illinois as one of the top twenty public institutions with the highest international presence. About 15% of students attending UI are from countries other than the United States.

For the past two years the Intercultural Community Development Initiative, or ICDI, has been working to break down the barriers between international and domestic students at the University of Illinois. According to the organization’s university profile, the ICDI provides “a safe environment for both groups to have meaningful, challenging discussions and develop skills crucial to being a global citizen.” Through discussion workshops and bonding activities, the ICDI encourages their members to branch out of their comfort zone and work to become more inclusive with other cultural groups on campus.

“We realized that we have so many international students on campus (and) people weren’t interacting with each other,” said Anne McLaughlin, President of the ICDI and senior in computer science. “(Students are) more comfortable talking to people similar to themselves and we realize that is very natural. It takes skills and confidence to bridge gaps between different groups.”

McLaughlin is the only founding member of the ICDI still attending UI and says that in the future she hopes all students will be able to easily introduce themselves and interact with each other regardless of where they come from. “Most of our members are international students so the real challenge is showing domestic students why it matters to reach out,” McLaughlin said.

Alice Fang said that when she started school at the University of Illinois she felt there was a lot of segregation between international and domestic students. “Freshman year you try to find people who have more commonalities with you. I felt more comfortable talking with a lot of international students because (they know) how you’re feeling and what you’re going through,” said Fang, Workshop coordinator at the ICDI and junior in Architecture.

After visiting a friend who was studying abroad, Fang decided to attend school in the United States instead of going to school in Brazil where she was born. She explained that living on her own in a new country and gaining new world experiences is what originally drew her to studying in the United States. “It was difficult because I am really close with my family and I can only see them on breaks,” Fang said. Fang also talked about the struggle she first encountered when she arrived in the United States because certain expressions and the slang that is used in the United States are different than in Brazil.

“Our (new) members, especially the international students, become more comfortable speaking out (as the year progresses). A lot of them have this issue with language barriers. But once (they) overcome the fear of saying something wrong they start to speak their mind and they are able to really contribute,” said Adrianne Gimenez, Vice President of public relations and junior in business. Gimenez said that a lot of progress is made with communication throughout the school year and that students become more confident in themselves when they know that mistakes are acceptable.

Having a diverse population at the university has many benefits but also leaves a lot of room for cultural clusters that prevent students from socializing. “I think that the diversity at this university is one of the hugest resources that not a lot of other schools have. Given how globalized our world is, we are all going to have to work with people from other countries. We can’t just (form) our own comfortable groups and it really is a skill to practice,” McLaughlin said. This is the URL for the statistic in the second paragraph This is the URL for the ICDI university profile in third paragragh

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