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With many cultures represented in the classroom, students can gain intercultural skills and global awareness right here at the U.

By Jana Cunningham, communications specialist, University Marketing and Communications

With more than 2,500 international students, the University of Utah continues to become a more diverse campus offering cross-cultural learning opportunities to better understand the complex and interconnected world. With many cultures represented in the classroom, students can gain intercultural skills and global awareness right here on campus. Below, students discuss how their lives and education have benefited from engaging with the U’s international community.

Uinta Cook

Uinta Cook, undergraduate student in international studies and Spanish

“The way I see it, the benefits of having multiple cultures represented on campus are essentially endless. If we think about the overarching goal of the university as a place where people come to challenge their assumptions, own their privileges and discover new things, the participation of as many diverse people as possible is an absolute necessity. Not to mention that the kind of people who leave their homes and everything they know to study in a foreign country are incredibly brave and just really, really cool. If we, as a student community at the U, want to keep challenging ourselves to grow and learn and go on adventures and find our passions, these are the kind of people we want to be doing it with.

In the classroom, specifically, the participation of international students contributes greatly to a culture of critical thinking, which is often touted as one of the most important benefits of a university education. Engaging with people of different backgrounds exposes us to different ways of problem solving and approaching issues and current events. Furthermore, interacting with people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs helps us develop communication skills and cross-cultural fluency and sensitivity, the benefits of which can be easily applied across any career path or life experience.”

Laiyan Bawadeen

Laiyan Bawadeen, graduate student in clinical and mental health counseling

“Being an international student myself and the president of the International Women’s Association at the U, I have been able to get involved with a lot of international women and student spouses by holding hiking trips, cooking and fitness classes, potlucks and other social gatherings. Moreover, being a graduate assistant in International Student and Scholar Services, I get to interact in a different way with the international population here on campus. I am able to better connect with them by understanding and easing some of their worries and concerns ranging from legal statuses and documentations to potential dilemmas they might face.

Seeing a diverse campus with people of different race and colors provides a sense of comfort for me knowing that I am not the only foreigner. By seeing multiple cultures, I also feel the liveliness and vivacity of the university.

There usually is no one way of looking at things. It is always interesting and eye opening when students from different backgrounds get into discussions and group work that provide them with inputs of different perspectives which could help them form their own opinions at the end of the day.”

Khaled Al Tholoth

Khaled Al Tholoth, graduate student in chemical engineering 

“Cultural singularity creates a very self-centered community that resists accepting people from other cultures just because they are different. Such ignorance may cause unjust hatred or dislike to people who we have not even met. Cultural diversity creates a campus that understands we are not alone in this world. There are people from different backgrounds, different languages, different beliefs, brought up in a different climate, having unique habits and certainly eat different food. I would call the number one benefit of having multiple cultures on campus is that you get to eat all types of food from different countries. In addition, you get to hear a lot of interesting stories from people who crossed the Narrow Sea, a.k.a. Atlantic Ocean, to study in the U.S. Most of all, we get to rectify false images about different parts of the world that were fed to us by the media.”

Stephanie Yu

Stephanie Yu, honors undergraduate student in business management, marketing, Chinese and international studies

“As a student native to Utah, I am so grateful for the opportunity to interact with the international community. Some of my closest friends are international students and they come from all different countries such as China, Korea, Japan, India, Vietnam, Pakistan, Iraq, Ethiopia, Ghana, Thailand, Mongolia and more.

I strongly believe we should have multiple cultures represented on campus. We have the ability to learn more about other people’s cultures and gain new perspective in the interconnected, interdependent world we live in. Personally, I have benefited greatly from my interactions with international students. With my degrees in business and humanities, I have been hyper-sensitive to the rapidly changing world. In order to be a well-rounded student or professional, it is necessary to be attune to the events and situations that occur not only locally or nationally, but internationally.

Having different people from diverse backgrounds adds a lot of value to my classes. They bring different perspectives and new insights that may be outside of my current world. This way, when they contribute to class, I can learn something new. This is really phenomenal because I don’t need to be in South Africa to learn about their economy, I can hear it directly from someone who lived there.”

Guillermina Palaez

Guillermina Palaez, undergraduate student in urban ecology

“Multiculturalism is crucial to innovation. When we don’t let people who are ‘different’ than ourselves or what we know ‘in’ we deny our society as a whole more ideas, more creativity and more hard work. Especially in an academic environment. Multiculturalism is just another facet of human capital. Having an international community also helps us as Americans acknowledge the immigration (and oppression) that this country was founded on. This is what the U.S. is to me, a collision of different backgrounds that sometimes blend seamlessly and sometimes stick out. We’re all different, that’s what makes us Americans. You can’t think of this country without thinking about all the other places that have influenced it.

I’m in Urban Ecology and we often observe how other cities around the world are developing and functioning. If there weren’t any students from around the world, there wouldn’t be different points of views. There are so many different ways of living. It’s a gift to be able to explore that. It challenges what we know and what we’re comfortable with in terms of the places we live. It makes one consider others ways of doing things.”