Festival welcomes international students to their new home in Mount Pleasant
The semiannual International Student Welcome Festival attracted students from around the world on Saturday, Feb. 3.
Throughout the afternoon, several students visited the First Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, to feast in a variety of foods and participate in games and activities. The event, hosted by the International Student Organization, was designed to help international students at Central Michigan University get acquainted and feel more comfortable with their new home.
Students trickled in and out of the church 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m, listening to Arabic music as they mingled and played games, such as corn hole, air hockey and foosball. The potluck-style meal represented an array of cultures, featuring different rice, soup and pasta dishes.
There are two International Student Welcome Festivals a year — one toward the beginning of each semester. Sara Shalabi, the ISO professional development chair, said the Spring semester festival usually has a smaller turnout, which she attributes to the weather. She said in the fall, ISO likes to host the festival in the park.
Shalabi, a junior from Saudi Arabia, said the festival is important for new international students on campus, because it enables them to meet other students who are familiar with the community and can share experiences on adjusting to American life.
“They are coming from all over the place — all over the world. They don’t know anyone here and they feel nervous to be in a new town and new place,” she said. “It’s mostly for new students, so they can feel welcome.”
Nasteha Feto, president of the African Student Association, agreed. She said students who feel "different" from their peers sometimes sense a divide making it difficult to build friendships.
“Getting to know your surroundings on campus --- it seems sometimes you’re constantly around people who are not like you, especially if you’re an international student,” the Grand Rapids sophomore said. “Events like this make you feel like you’re not alone.”
For many students, including Saudi Arabia junior Sumiah Altalhi, the ISO and its sponsored events greatly impacted their CMU experience. She said students need these events, such as the welcome festival, because the ISO shows expertise in connecting them to a community and establishing a comfort zone.
“When I first started at CMU, I (spent) a whole semester without knowing anyone,” Altalhi said. “Then I decided to come and meet the people that work (at ISO).”
Altalhi said it is obvious to anyone who is involved with or interacts with the organization, that it makes a difference in international student’s lives — including her own.
“(Students) need this, and they need that push to tell them they are welcome and (should) come get involved,” she said.
In light of current racial tensions being discussed at the national level, Shalabi said it’s difficult for many foreign students to feel welcome and safe in a new environment. She hopes the International Student Welcome Festival eased their anxieties and showed them they are included and valued as part of the student community and culture.