An open mind, a ready welcome and snow angels
By Emily Goodenow (’13)
I have always been interested in the global community. Since I was little it was my dream to live and travel abroad. I took a gap year between high school and college and spent it doing a rotary youth Exchange in Switzerland.
I lived with a Swiss family and went to the local high school, experiencing true immersion into the Swiss culture and French language. This experience led me to understand the problems associated with studying abroad. Since then I have tried to take an active position helping exchange students feel welcome.
As a sophomore at Gonzaga, I decided to live in the international community in Coughlin Hall and ended up with two different international roommates.
That fall, my roommate from Japan was in her second semester of study abroad; she returned home at winter break. Spring semester my roommate was from Australia. When two cultures come together, there will be misunderstandings, but most of
these instances turned into laughs. My roommate from Japan was quiet, but friendly. We hung out several times a week and lived together very well. My Australian roommate, though she spoke the same language, had many different slang words or ways of saying things that were so funny. Each of us enjoyed getting to know the differences between our two languages and cultures that
appear so similar from the outside. One challenge of living with an international roommate is making sure you don’t give the impression that you think their way of acting or speaking is weird, stupid or ignorant. Even if they speak the same language, not everything will be the same. Some people are so quick to judge that it makes the international student want to close up and not do or say anything for fear of being criticized. This can be challenging to the American roommate. If you’re not prepared to go in with an extremely open mind and a willingness to learn, something like this could end badly.
On the other hand, these opportunities can be really rewarding. My roommate from Japan came home with me for Thanksgiving and it was fun to see how much she enjoyed the strange traditions we have, like building a gingerbread house. My roommate from Australia and I had fun speaking alternatively in “American” and “Australian” and found it totally hysterical that I had to speak to automated phone messaging machines because the machine couldn’t recognize the way she said “no.” As well, she had never seen snow, so I took her snowshoeing with friends and showed her how to make snow angels. In return, she made an Australian dinner for us.
The exchange of little pieces of local culture and traditions is really fun and helps create a much more complete idea about the world.
One thing that surprised me was how many of the exchange students mostly hung out with other exchange students. While I understand the appeal of this, it’s not as desirable as if they became friends with American students. On the other hand, this comes with the nature of the one-semester exchange. For those who come not already fl uent in English, one semester is barely long enough to get them to fluency. GU students are always very nice to the exchange students, but it is hard and not worth the effort to some people to befriend someone who is not fluent in English.
If I were to give advice to someone seeking out an international roommate, I would tell them to go in with an open mind and invite the roommate everywhere with them for the first couple of weeks.
As a junior, I went to China to study at the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies at the University of International Business and Economics campus. I took 10 hours of Chinese per week, plus tutoring. In addition, I lived with a Chinese roommate who was required to speak at least 85 percent Chinese with me. I also took business classes with a Chinese twist, in English. I chose China as my destination because it worked well with my major (international business, economics and entrepreneurship) and because I wanted to go anywhere but Europe. I think culture is fascinating. Being born in a different place can give you vastly different ideas about life, society, business, morals, religion and government. I think studying abroad is an invaluable experience that can shape
one’s mind and broaden one’s view of the world.
Goodenow is studying for her LSAT this fall. She hopes to practice international law.