Every Friday of each semester, Georgia Southern students from all around the world gather for a light lunch and refreshments on the school’s campus. Backed by the Office of International Programs and Services, International Conversation Hours are sponsored by various businesses, restaurants, churches, civic organizations and on-campus departments. The light-hearted atmosphere sees friends both old and new getting the opportunity to relax, take a break from their studies, and immerse themselves in the cultures of their peers regardless of the hardships their countries may be facing.
When sophomore film production major Michelle Pescina came to Georgia Southern to escape the worsening conditions in her home country of Venezuela she didn’t even know the English language. Through working with the university and the Office of International Programs and Services the adjustment period became easier. She was eventually able to move into a role as an International Ambassador for the school. Pescina says the weekly events are important for her because it allows for people to become more diverse and open-minded to the other cultures on campus.
Host Angie Threatte knows the importance providing southern hospitality to students from other cultures. Threatte, who has worked at Georgia Southern for 26 years, helps organize and host all the programs and events for international students. When the long-standing event on the GS campus known as International Coffee Hour fell under her control some years ago, she made adjustments until the event became what it is today.
“I want international students and American students, and faculty and staff to come be a part of this so they can learn about other cultures, other languages. I want people to come together as not only peers, but as friends to break down the barriers that I feel really exist in our rural area and we can do that by showing those around us that we are here for them as many of them spend time away from their families,” Threatte said.
Opening the eyes of someone from a rural area like Statesboro by meeting and starting a dialogue with an international student can change their world view. That’s why students like Jared Wody, a junior logistics and supply chain management major from Statesboro, come to the event every Friday they can. Talking about why he started coming to ICH as far back as 2009 and still shows up, Wody said:
“I think it’s important to meet students from different cultures. I think it’s important to try to expand beyond your horizons. That’s why I come try to meet people, to understand more than just my own sphere of interactions.”
Junior civil engineering major Aaron Towns also shared Wody’s sentiment of coming to grow out of personal life circles. Towns said it is the simple things that make attending worth it, like the first time he came and discussed being a black belt with a Korean student who explained to him some of the meaning behind the symbolism. It was a shared knowledge and appreciation for a subject that crossed cultures, and it reminded him that although some subjects may become lost in translation, we are all students and people of the world around us.
With the recent change in political climate in the United States and proposed ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries by President Trump, tensions are at a head between different ethnic and religious groups. Events on campuses around the country like ICH help comfort students affected by the order. The action effectively banned four female GS students in the Office of International Programs and Services who are now in fear of having their visas and educations revoked. Sometimes the best way to address an issue is just to provide comfort for those who may be affected by it. There doesn’t need to be a debate or an argument, sometimes just being around friends and having that support group is the best way to wait out a potentially tragic, volatile situation between nations.
For those looking to learn more about the different cultures on campus and meet some new friends while doing it, International Conversation Hours are held every Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Russell Union Ballroom.