Cultural Connections will network international and American students

Dr. Wafa Orman

Dr. Wafa Orman, associate dean for undergraduate programs in the College of Business, is the advisor to Cultural Connections.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Cultural Connections is a new club started by The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) College of Business to celebrate the diverse cultures of students and encourage cultural exchange.

"Cultural Connections is an effort to assist international students in transitioning to UAH and a new country, and increase opportunities for all students to have fun while learning about global business and culture from each other," says its advisor, Dr. Wafa Orman, associate dean for undergraduate programs in the College of Business.

The club will serve both international and American students, providing a platform for interaction and a supportive place for international students who are far from their homes to network through social activities, says Dr. Orman. She plans to draw many other faculty members into club involvement, as well.

"Any UAH student is welcome to join. We will be determining and posting meeting dates in the fall and everyone is welcome to simply show up and start participating, although business topics and issues will be the focus of some of the meetings and events," says Dr. Orman.

Many international students come from large, densely populated cities with public transportation, and are shocked at how difficult it is to get around without a car in Huntsville, Dr. Orman says.

"Language and cultural barriers, unfamiliar food and the inability to shop for and cook familiar food without a car all are common issues that can be addressed with a strong network of support and friendship," she says. "The goal is for the club to provide a platform for these networks to form and flourish."

Once students get to know each other at regular meetings and events, they’ll be able to rely on each other.

"At the meetings, we could have potluck dinners, for everyone to try traditional foods from different countries; discussions about cultural differences; and eventually presentations by international students on the business environment in their home country," Dr. Orman says. "Events could range from the low-key, like watch parties for football games – if you have grown up watching soccer or cricket, football is incomprehensible until someone explains it at least three times, and don't ask how I know – to trips to watch UAH games, to planned visits to museums like the Space & Rocket Center and the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham or Memphis. But we also want students to take the lead and come up with their own ideas."

The College of Business is involved because its dean, Dr. Jason Greene, offered to have the college sponsor events and trips for the club.

Dr. Orman has personally experienced the sense of disconnectedness that can result from being in a different culture and far from home.

"Back in 2002, I was a brand-new international student at the University of Arizona, with the same sense of excitement at being in the U.S. combined with culture shock that most international students experience," she says. "Adjusting to and learning a completely different culture is one of the most incredible experiences you can have, but it can be terrifying and often lonely, until you settle in and make friends."

In her case, a classmate took all the international students under his wing and was their guide to American history and culture, everything from understanding baseball to writing to a Congressional representative.

"I was lucky," says Dr. Orman. "Sadly, based on student feedback, we have learned that it doesn't happen as organically for all international students, and the fish-out-of-water feeling can last much longer than it needs to. I think many of our American students would love the opportunity to introduce our international students to American sports, culture and traditions, meanwhile learning about their countries and cultures in turn."

Small acts like a shopping trip or an explanation of American sports rules can have big impacts in making an international student welcome and at ease, she says.

"This club can provide a platform to do so, with a little help from the college."


Contact

Dr. Wafa Orman
 256.824.5674
wafa.orman@uah.edu

Jim Steele
 256.824.2772
jim.steele@uah.edu

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