By Sophie Smith
The offices in Kaneko Commons are quiet. Amidst posters reading, “Throw caution to the wind… Speak English!” and “You learn from your mistakes!” administrators are hard at work to prepare for next week’s arrival of students to the American Studies Program (ASP) at Willamette University. But the office won’t be quiet much longer.
On Monday, Feb. 5, a new class of ASP students will arrive on Willamette’s campus. After a week of Opening Days activities, the 117 students, hailing from Japan, China, Thailand, South Korea and Peru, will begin classes. ASP is a study abroad program jointly facilitated by Willamette and Tokyo International University of America (TIUA).
Anyone who has studied abroad, or even recalls their own first weeks at Willamette, might be able to imagine what emotions these incoming students may be soon feeling. While this new adventure is exciting, the challenge of living in a new culture while speaking a foreign language is a daunting one.
Fortunately, there are plenty ways current Willamette students can help ASP students transition to life in Salem. The ASP class will arrive next Monday on buses from PDX (Portland International Airport) around 12:30 p.m., and the rest of the Willamette community is invited to greet the students at the Chicken Fountain. In fact, when ASP students are asked at the end of the year about their favorite memories of their experience, many mentioned the enthusiastic greeting they received on their first day. The 12:30 p.m. arrival time is subject to change depending on airline delays or traffic. For updates, students can follow the ASP arrival takeover on Snapchat (@willamette_u).
Later, on Monday, the ASP students will attend their first dinner at Goudy Commons. Current Willamette students are encouraged to attend as guides, showing students around the dining hall and then chatting over dinner. The event, which will feature American food, begins at 4:50 pm and will last until 6:00 pm. Students without meal plans are invited to volunteer, too. A limited number of free meal cards are available for the meal. You can receive a meal card by contacting Sarah Shinn, the Associate Director of Student Life for ASP, by Friday, February 2. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Opportunities to welcome ASP students won’t end after Monday. Befriending new students is rewarding, but barriers between cultures and languages might be intimidating deterrents at first. It’s important not to focus on these perceived barriers. Kay Barriger, a member of the ASP Welcome and Opening Committee, says, “Don’t worry if the conversation feels awkward… give them some time to think of a response and speak slow so they understand.”
Other members of the committee have great advice, too. “WU students’ willingness to approach ASP students and help integrate them into the community means a lot in making their study at Willamette a wonderful cultural experience,” said Michelle Fensler. The school offers programs that allow for students to interact, such as TIUA sponsored trips through the Outdoor Program, which both Willamette and ASP students can participate in. “It’s a great way to meet ASP students,” says Derek Lund, a coordinator for the Outdoor Program. “From personal experience leading trips with ASP participants, it can be one of the best ways for both WU and ASP students to interact and get to know each other.” There are many other ways to meet ASP students, like inviting them to dorm events, clubs they may be interested in, or to eat a meal at Goudy.
If all else fails, just saying “hi” goes a long way. It’s really important to make ASP students feel welcome because they are a part of the WU campus just like all other students,” Victoria Mohtes-Chan said. Showing kindness, starting conversations and being inclusive benefits both ASP and current Willamette students, creating new friendships and sharing each other’s cultures. “Who knows?” says Kay Barriger. “You may have a best friend in Japan one day!”