Diversity a selling point for exchange students

When junior Yejin Dong arrived at the University of Miami in the middle of the summer, she hated the heat and had trouble adjusting to it. But now that it’s time for her to return to her native country of South Korea, she said she doesn’t want to leave.

“I am half excited and half sad [to leave Miami],” Dong said. “I am excited to see my family and friends [in Korea], and at the same time I am sad to leave Miami and my friends here.”

Dong is one of the 137 exchange students at UM this semester planning to return to their home countries in May. The students represent four continents: Europe, Australia, Latin America and Asia.

Most of the exchange students said that diversity was one of the most enjoyable aspects of their UM experience.

“Hanging out with people from different countries every single night is the best,” said Rajeev Valabjee, a senior and business student from Australia.

Glenda Hayley, director of the International Education and Exchange program, said learning about different cultures is typically one of the main reasons students go abroad.

“They all have opportunities to meet people at class and dorms,” Hayley said.

American students who attend UM also benefit from the international influence on campus.

Devon Gangi, a sophomore from Florida, said that she was able to learn about foreign culture through her roommate, who is an exchange student from Korea.

“I think it’s very interesting to know about people from different cultures and get other people’s perspectives,” Gangi said.

But some exchange students said it was difficult to form close bonds with local students because of pre-existing social cliques at UM.

“International students are kind of segregated from the beginning,” said Jamie Stevenson, a junior and exchange student from England. “At orientation, the Americans go one way and the internationals go another.”

Other universities, such as Carleton University in Canada, pair international students with local students through buddy programs. These programs are meant to provide exchange students with a support system in their new environment, helping them to adjust more easily.

“We have similar programs in Korea, too,” Dong said. “I used to meet exchange students from other countries and bring them to different cultural activities.”

Dong said it would be better to have more opportunities to get involved in local communities and cultural activities. “[UM] provides a lot of activity, but I wish [foreign exchange students] could have more chances to get real American culture.”

The Council of International Students and Organizations (COISO), the primary organizer of activities for international students, advises exchange students to get involved.

“As organizations, we are doing as much as we can,” Samit Shah, a senior and president of COISO, said. “But [exchange] students must take advantage of every organization.”

Next semester, at least 157 exchange students will be coming to UM to study.

Fiona Kim may be contacted at h.kim18@umiami.edu.

Anthony Minerva may be contacted at a.minerva@umiami.edu.