Global Ambassador program builds language skills, cultural awareness for international students

Junior Yingshi Chen speaks with other Global Ambassadors on Feb. 15 in the UC.

A new program aims to introduce international students to American culture and improve their talent with the English language. 

The Global Ambassador program began in Spring 2018 as part of the Office of International Affairs. It is overseen by International Student Advisor Megan Hofer and graduate assistant Habeebat Diaw. Diaw herself is an international student from Senegal. 

The program has recruited 31 international students from 14 countries, including:

• India

• Democratic Republic of the Congo

• Saudi Arabia 

• El Salvador

• Nigeria

• Bangladesh 

• Japan

• China

• Mexico

• Senegal 

• Lebanon 

• Hong Kong

• Nepal

• New Zealand 

“We think it’s a good platform for international students to share their perspectives about their own countries general multicultural issues," Diaw said.

Hofer and Diaw started the program to bring international students at CMU together and help them refine their presentation and public speaking skills. Students will then use these skills to speak at events such as panels and presentations on campus about their experiences and cultures. 

The two hope these events will provide outlets for the students to share their cultures with other people and ambassadors.

One student who is thrilled to be a part of this program is Bangladeshi graduate student Shuvo Kundu. His complicated path to CMU began in 2015, when he began attending University of Tampa. 

The concern he had with attending an American school was the ever-present language-barrier. 

While he did say kids in Bangladesh are required to learn English as early as kindergarten, it was still difficult for him to transition.

“We just learn how to write and how to read English,” Kundu said. “We don’t learn how to listen, how to understand and how to speak English.”

Kundu lived in off-campus housing, which became a problem — all the off-campus housing was 15 to 20 miles from the university. This created another issue for Kundu: he had to learn how to drive. 

Kundu was never able to get a car at home. He said the currency in Bangladesh is so weak, many people can’t afford a car. He had to get his first car and driver’s license while still trying to attend school.

Because of these difficulties, he transferred to ASA College in New York, since he had an aunt who lived nearby and could use public transportation. There, he had to face another new aspect of America — snow.

While Kundu had seen snow on TV before, he had never seen it in person. He also never had to experience cold winters before from his usually warm home country.

In Spring 2016, Kundu transferred to CMU after encouragement from friends already attending the university. 

While Kundu has been going to American schools for some time now, he has not lost any love for his home country. His face lights up every time he talks about his culture, which he hopes to share with others.

“I’m part of a program that will help me spread my culture and message to everyone,” Kundu said. “I feel proud of it, so it’s a good feeling.”

Another student in the program is second year graduate student Naoki Kimura, from Japan. Kimura loves to share culture, specifically food culture as an admitted food-lover.

“I really enjoy making friends,” Kimura said. "It’s a great opportunity for me to see new people and socialize.”

Both Kimura and Kundu recommend the program for any new international students who have just arrived at CMU. They said it’s a great place for any international student to feel like they are a part of something, it helps new students get adjusted to an American university and brings a diverse group of cultures together. 

The ambassadors noted the program will improve participants’ presentation skills, and also give them something to add to their resume. These are the two major reasons why junior Yingshi Chen decided to join the program.

Chen is a foreign exchange student from China and is planning on getting a major in English. She said the program will help her with her English skills.

"I want my English to (sound) more native," Chen said.

The program has only had a few events so far — one of them being a training session in the Presentation Skills Center. The plan for the future is to host events in the Mount Pleasant community. This semester, they are simply testing out the program and seeing what may need to be changed.

“We hope (the ambassadors) are able to educate and bring cultural awareness to classes on campus, to registered student organizations on campus, as well as people within the community,” Hofer said. “I think people are always curious about other cultures, and hopefully this will give them the opportunity to learn.”

Hofer and Diaw both said if this semester goes well, they are hoping to expand their reach outside of the Mount Pleasant area in hopes of teaching as many people about international culture as they can.