Colleges: UNOH class helps international students with life in USA

By William Laney

March 2, 2014

LIMA — A new class helps international students become better acclimated to the University of Northwestern Ohio and the region.

Rachel Head, of Auckland, New Zealand, and Michael Gonzalo, of Bristol, England, attest the class under the eye of Danielle McClure, director of counseling and academic skills, and Caitlin Vance, international student adviser, makes a difference in in the lives of Racer students as they adjust to life in the United States and ultimately succeed in their studies and life.

“This is a class we wanted to use to get the students out into the community,” Vance said. “We want them to see what life is like for an American teenager, find some things to do, learn about new people, find where things are.”

McClure added, “We also want them to learn about American sports, holidays we celebrate whether they are religious, government or cultural, and the way we celebrate them.”

The program started in 2011 with a handful of international students attending seminars. In 2012, the number jumped to approximately 45 due largely to the start of the men’s soccer program. In 2013, the number nearly doubled to 80 students, so the university developed a weekly class.

Vance explained the aim of the program was to help students understand U.S. laws which might affect them, specifically work laws, and on a more personal level to have a better experience in the United States. They take field trips to places, such as Harold’s Haunted Cornfield outside of Waynesfield, Mad River Mountain near Bellefontaine and Cedar Point at Sandusky, and cultural places such as Chicago, Columbus and Cincinnati.

The students have weekly reading assignments and assessments, and they write a weekly blog about what life is like here in West Central Ohio. They helped with an international fair at Elida Elementary School, where they explained the culture in their home countries.

“I learned how Americans love to celebrate every holiday and really intensely,” said Head, who plays women’s soccer for the Racers and who could compare her time in Lima with her first three months, which she spent in South Carolina. “The class is quite nice, learning different things about America but also being in class with the different nationalities and different athletes. There were two who didn’t have anything to do with sports and going out to the elementary schools and to learn how much they didn’t know beyond Lima.”

She shared with the Elida students that they have McDonald’s in New Zealand.

The 20-year-old is working on earning a degree in marketing. The daughter of Julie and Simon Head has an older brother, David, and an older sister, Laura.

During her time here, Head is fascinated by Dodge Ram trucks because of their size compared to compact cars in her country. She misses a sweet potato dish called kumera. She is puzzled by the fact that Americans carve their pumpkins, while they eat them in her native country.

“The biggest factor for me is how friendly the American citizens are,” Gonzalo said. “It was just the other day I was coming out of a building and a woman spoke to me, and I ended up having a 45-minute discussion about supplements. There have been numerous occasions at restaurants that they come up to us and they see that we are different, and they ask us questions about our country, how we live, the type of people live there and what we eat.”

Gonzalo’s parents are from two mainland European countries — his mother, Charlotte, from Denmark, and his father, Carlos, from Spain. They moved to England for employment reasons. Gonzalo has two younger brothers, Samuel and Joseph.

Gonzalo, who intends to earn a degree in sports management, said he is addicted to Pop Tarts and he has had McDonald’s more times (19) during his short stay in the United States than during his entire life in England.

Both said the classes help them as they compete on the pitch. Since the majority of the players are from foreign countries, it develops camaraderie on and off the field, which helps them in the classroom, playing on the athletic field and living in the area.