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International Ed Week bridges culture gap
Photos and Story by James Hill
What would you do if you went to another country, with maybe an unsure grasp of the local language and tried to go to school for a few years? Would it be daunting? Intimidating? That’s exactly how many international students feel when they first get to the United States to go to school.
An event at PCC is trying to make that transition smoother and easier for the college’s growing international student population. In conjunction with a national push to honor study-abroad programs, Portland Community College will host its seventh annual International Education Week Nov. 16-20. It is open to the public.
International Education Week is a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education. It raises awareness about study-abroad programs to American students and exposes prospective international students to the education and culture of the United States.
“Getting international students involved in activities here enables them to become a part of our society,” said Kabir Khanna, a PCC international student from New Delhi, India. “It’s a really huge struggle for an international student to find some footing here and be able to settle down and merge into the culture.
“The language barrier is the most difficult to overcome,” he added. “It’s a real challenge for the first few years and makes it harder to overcome other challenges like the social and cultural ones. It’s not always easy to do. And the students have a lot at stake when they are getting an education here.”
Khanna understands the challenges that face students like him. In 2003, he first arrived in the U.S. to complete his bachelor’s degree in computer science at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. He graduated in 2006, but wanted to change direction in life and enrolled at PCC to focus on a degree in the humanities. This is his second term at the college.
“What attracted me to PCC is that it’s a large community college and it offers a pretty diverse set of classes and range of fields,” he said. “Portland is a city I wanted to move to and I feel like I fit well into the culture of the city.”
Khanna may feel he fits in, but his cohorts in the International Education program often struggle to understand the language and culture. That’s why he’s so involved with organizing International Education Week’s celebration dinner at 6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 19, Events Center, Building 9, Rock Creek Campus. It will honor the F-1 Visa international students attending PCC with ethnic foods, various performances from local bands and artists, a fashion show by the international students, and a raffle of prizes.
He also will help with the International Showcases at three PCC locations – 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the mall, Building 3, Rock Creek Campus on Tuesday, Nov. 17, cafeteria, SC Building, Cascade Campus on Wednesday, Nov. 18, and CC Mall, Sylvania Campus on Thursday, Nov. 19. In addition, Max Rameau, a Haitian-born activist, will discuss issues regarding immigrant rights and criminal justice at the Sylvania Campus on Monday, Nov. 16, in the Cedar Room, CC Building, from 1 to 3 p.m. and in The Forum (Building 3) at the Rock Creek Campus from noon to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 17.
These events, free to the public, help educate the public to the wide variety of countries and cultures represented at PCC.
“It plays a huge role in getting the community in touch with what’s important out there in the world,” Khanna added. “Being from India, I have world views that are slightly different from typical Portland natives and I’m sure that’s the case with other international students as well. In celebrating diversity we embrace our unique perspectives on the world.”
A vegan who loves to ride his motorcycle, Khanna fits right into the Portland scene. But he’s never disconnected from family thanks to cheap calling rates and services on the Internet and seems at ease being on the opposite side of the planet from his home country.
“It forces you to step out of your comfort zone and see what else is out there,” Khanna said of being an international student. “I shiver to think what it might have been like to be an international student 30 years ago when none of the same services were in place and there weren’t as many international students in the U.S. It would have been much more challenging and more difficult and, indeed, very isolating.”
For more information on International Education Week, visit the PCC News Home Page.