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The Fine Art of Support and Cooperation

Posted April 26, 2013

Imagine yourself as a 19-year old student, making the decision to travel halfway around the world to attend college in a foreign land with strange customs. You walk off the plane, and although you understand the language, you don’t know how to navigate a new city. You have no idea how to find an apartment, and you certainly don’t know that when you move, you have to notify the Post Office with a change-of-address form. Everyday interactions and local customs that Americans take for granted because they have been learned throughout childhood can be a tremendous barrier for foreign students, and Kendall not only understands the problem, the college goes the extra mile to proactively address it. When students reach Gerald R. Ford International Airport, they are greeted by Yajuan “Jane” Zhang, Kendall’s International Student Advisor. She picks them up at the airport, drives them to their new residences and shows them around campus. From that point on, she will be their main lifeline to the American world until they get more comfortable with their new surroundings and culture.

Kendall international students with faculty and staff advisors

Kendall international students with faculty and staff advisors

“These students are courageous,” says Jane. “They deserve the additional assistance because of their determination and bravery. Because I share the Chinese language with some of them and have an understanding of the culture they are coming from, I am able to offer guidance and support during their stay in West Michigan, whether it’s for a semester, a full four years, or if they decide to make a life here. I’m developing relationships with these kids that will last for years to come.”

There are approximately 40 international students matriculating at Kendall, from countries including China, South Korea, Brazil, Ghana, India, and Japan. Jane helps them better adjust to their new environment and communicate more easily with their professors, as well as the community in large. This includes day-to-day experiences such as doctor visits, negotiations with landlords, and other interactions that could prohibit students from excelling if not navigated properly. This helps students not only feel comfortable at school, but also more at ease with their environment at large.

Lee Davis is the chair of the Interior Design program, and an integral part of student success, whether the student is from Beijing or Detroit. Like all instructors at Kendall, she is focused on developing cooperation between students, rather than breeding competition. As she believes, “In the real world, everyone works together. If we don’t teach students how to work in groups, we aren’t doing our job in preparing them for the real world.” In the junior and senior year, Davis assigns projects that are too large for one person to accomplish. This necessitates that students work together, and brings the international students into group activities with students who speak English as their native language. “For the international students, teaming with English-speaking students prevents segregation, achieves cross-cultural learning, and improves language and communication skills,” says Davis.

Language is a challenging barrier for foreign students, even for those who have an advanced grasp of English. The language and terminology of the design field is so specific and unique that even students who have met the language requirements require one or two semesters to get comfortable with design terminology.

Jane Zhang talking with students

Jane Zhang talking with students

“Jane has worked diligently with students to re-write papers, and I extended deadlines to allow extra time to rework those papers, because the end goal is to ensure these students are fully grasping the concepts and communicating clearly,” says Davis. “Jane has helped students communicate their thought processes and write more cohesive pieces. In fact, one student Jane assisted recently received her acceptance letter for graduate studies from the Rhode Island School of Design.”

Regardless of a student’s country of origin, Kendall works to promote cooperation and support for all students. Director of Student Activities Nicole DeKraker leads the efforts in the Activities and Resource Center. She coordinates support services, including software training, tutoring, writing help, counseling, and nearly any other assistance students require. Whether arriving from halfway around the world or halfway down the block, all students have cultural and social adjustments to make when going to college for the first time, and Kendall has created an environment that nurtures them and provides all the support they need to succeed in their coursework and their future careers.

~ Patrick Duncan 


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