NKU international programs help build new homes for students

The smell of freshly brewed coffee, the subtle hum of trendy music, the soft conversations in small corners, the perfect view to the bustling student union- Yash Savadra’s favorite place at NKU is Starbucks. 

Since his arrival to NKU in the fall of 2015 from India, Savadra has developed an addiction for coffee; Starbucks coffee. On Monday morning before his 9 o’clock class, he waits patiently for a steamy grande espresso macchiato.

Savadra’s hometown of Kolkata didn’t have a Starbucks. It also didn’t have a school where he could study computer technology; another one of Savadra’s favorite things about NKU.

After learning about the American English Literature Program (AELP) and the International Friendship Family Program (IFF), Savadra not only knew he could pursue a career he was interested in but have the support to flourish in another culture.

Having a Starbucks on campus was the cherry on top.

“It’s been extremely helpful to have programs that help me better speak English and to fit it in more and of course, the Starbucks is delicious,” Savadra said.

Ran by International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), the IFF seeks to link international students with local Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area families.

Based on the belief that proximity, inclusion and friendship are key to successful cultural exchange, the program provides unique cultural experiences for community members and helps international students experience true Ohio/Kentucky culture.

“Everything is new to me,” Savadra said. “It was a little overwhelming at first because going into another culture is pretty scary, but with the IFF, I think it will be a great support system and be easier to pick up things. Learning about it all and connecting with different people has been fun.”

Fatimata Ndiaye is the Intercultural Programs Coordinator for IFF and seeks to build a bridge between the students.

Although the IFF began this year, Ndiaye said the response has exceeded her expectations.

“Every time I check my email, there’s an influx of participants asking to join,” Ndiaye said. “It makes me extremely excited for the future and I hope it grows even more once things are up and running.”

Ndiaye’s goal is to make the Cincinnati/Highland Heights community a home away from home for international students.

“We want to make it as big as we can, ultimately be able to match every single student with a family,” Ndiaye said.

AELP offers English language classes to students from around the world who wish to improve their grammar, writing, reading, listening and speaking skills.

Similar to IFF, this program focuses on strengthening the connections between families and provides engaging opportunities so students will become more comfortable at their new homes and on campus.

Experienced instructors work 25 hours per week to make learning English efficient and enjoyable. Outside of class, students participate in casual conversations with their fellow peers and form new friendships.

David Gutmann, director of AELP, believes these programs are a necessary tool for transitioning into another culture.

Gutmann said that when an international student initially moves from their home to NKU, they’re usually excited and eager to begin trying new things.

However, after the first couple of weeks the daily struggles begin to sink in and affect them.

“Just the small challenges like language, food and homesickness can become too stressful,” Gutmann said. “Going into another life is exciting but at the same time, they’re going through having to learn a completely different lifestyle. It can be rough. Without support like the IFF or AELP, it would be almost impossible.”