International students discover a community of belonging

December 19, 2014

At Northwest Nazarene University, we love all of the students that make up our community, especially our international student population. Being in a new environment can be uncomfortable, but attending school in a whole new country is often as challenging as it is exciting.

This year, NNU has students from seven different areas: Asia, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Europe, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. Some international students come for a semester or a year and end up transferring here in order to stay and finish their education. Other students, like Sarah Zhou, a sophomore nursing major from China, come to the area for high school or other reasons and stay to attend NNU. No matter their reason for being here, we welcome the unique set of customs, beliefs and traditions each person brings. When people from all over the world come together in one community, their backgrounds blend together to form a dynamic culture—one for which we are both proud and thankful.

Joe Willey, English Language Institute coordinator and director of The Well gathering place, plays a vital role in helping international students adjust to life in the States and at NNU. Angie Martinez, a sophomore social work and youth ministry double major from Boise, Idaho spends time hanging out at The Well, befriending new students. She explained Willey “is kind of like a guardian for everyone.” Willey is even known for taking students to the bank or Wal-Mart when they need to go. While it is helpful for international students to have Willey, it is imperative for all of NNU’s community to embrace these students and make them part of who we are as a university.

Jane Zhang, a junior business administration and global business double major from a small town in China, has been part of the NNU community for the past two years. Initially attending for a semester, she ended up transferring after falling in love with the community and people that make up NNU. She had significant experiences with students and faculty that helped her feel welcome. “My dear friend professor Kathy Burns helped me with my English and school homework. She is not only a professor to me, but also a mentor. She is one of the very special people that showed me how wonderful this community is and how God works in each person’s life.”

In recent years NNU has implemented various activities and programs for international students to connect with other students and share their culture. Conversational Partners is one avenue NNU offers for students to gain the most from multicultural life. In this program, an international student is paired up with an American student and they spend a few hours a week learning from one another and teaching one another what it means to be from their own unique culture. Other events and activities are spaced throughout the year to integrate international student into the larger student body.

While the challenge of attending a university in a foreign country may seem daunting, NNU is learning how to make it accessible so that those who desire this unique experience can succeed and thrive during their time as part of our community.