Integrating Illinois: Organization strives to bring cultures together

By Abby Paeth

For two years, the Intercultural Community Development Initiative, or ICDI, has been working to break down the barriers between international and domestic students at 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 ICDI and senior in Engineering. “(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, the only founding member of ICDI still attending the University, said 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, ICDI’s workshop coordinator and a junior in FAA, said that when she started school at the University 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,” Fang said. “I felt more comfortable talking with a lot of international students because (they know) how you’re feeling and what you’re going through.”

After visiting a friend who was studying abroad, Fang decided to attend school in the U.S. instead of going to school in her home country Brazil. 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,” she said.

Fang also discussed the struggles shhe had when she arrived in the U.S., because certain expressions and slang are different from those in Brazil. For instance, she said things that can be considered rude in the U.S. are not considered rude in Brazil.

Adrianne Gimenez, vice president of public relations for ICDI and junior in Business, said that a lot of communication progress is made with members throughout the school year, and students become more confident in themselves when they know that mistakes are acceptable. This occurs through their discussions and workshops, such as their Oct. 22 workshop on cultural competency.

“Our members, especially the international students, become more comfortable speaking out. A lot of them have this issue with language barriers,” Gimenez said. “But once (they) overcome the fear of saying something wrong they start to speak their mind and they are able to really contribute.”

McLaughlin said it is so important to be exposed to diversity, and ICDI is a way to do it.

“I think that the diversity at this university is one of the hugest resources that not a lot of other schools have,” she said. “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.”

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