by Dorothee Kellinghusen, staff writer
Six foreign exchange students are spending one to two semesters at Warren Wilson to take classes in their field of studies, but also to learn about the American culture and to make friends. The transition to a new culture, with different customs and a different language, is no doubt a difficult one, but these six foreign guest students want to fit in, make friends and be part of the life at Warren Wilson.
Jane, 22, from Thailand enjoys being part of the Cowpie work crew and sees it as her favorite way to spend time on campus.
“It is a very nice crew and we get to do many different things,” she said. “I prepare the food for the cook, or I help serve and sometimes I clean up.”
While working she has the chance to talk with the other crew members, but she is a bit shy about it. Even though she studied English in Thailand, she is not used to the speed and some terms that are commonly used. It is very hard for her to study and work in an environment with a foreign language.
“It makes me so tired,” she said.
She is amazed at how much more sleep she needs compared to her life in Thailand.
Jane’s full name is Jenjira Wanmanee. She is a student of International Hospitality at Payap University in Chiang Mai, the same university the exchange student Bua, who was featured in the previous issue of the Echo, attends. At Warren Wilson, Jane takes classes in business, management and leadership. In her spare time, Jane can be found on the tennis or basketball courts. Often, she plays with Veronica, the foreign exchange student from South Korea, or joins other players.
The most striking difference between Payap University and the mountain college is the amount of students in the classroom, according to Jane. Sometimes there are more than 100 students in one classroom at Payap and the professors do not know their students. Here she finds that teachers want to get to know her and care about her as well as her fellow students.
At the beginning of the semester Jane enrolled in a beginners guitar class, but found herself with no instrument. In class, a student offered to drive her to a store in Asheville to purchase a new guitar. Jane will never forget the experience, she said.
“People in Thailand don’t talk to people they don’t know”, said Jane and she adds that she would like to learn to be more open.
Already she feels she learned a lot at the Cowpie Café, not only about how to chop veggies, but also to talk and laugh with her co-workers.
Yang Song, 22, from China is a foreign exchange student from the partner university Liaocheng. Right after he arrived at Warren Wilson, Yang introduced himself as “Song Yang, but you can call me Shawn, too.”
His major at Liaocheng University is geographical science. It is a complex major in China which includes geography, environmental science, global studies and education. Within his major he had a lot of practice using geographic information systems (GIS) which he enjoyed so much that he became an expert using this technology.
Yang is especially interested in environmental studies, and therefore his first choice among other partner universities to study for a year abroad was Warren Wilson.
“I want to learn about environmental issues, improve my English and make acquaintance with the American culture,” he said.
The academic part of Warren Wilson is very important to the Chinese student and he is very pleased with the faculty support at the college.
“My professors and my advisor are knowledgeable and responsible,” he said.
New to him is the Triad, which he finds very meaningful. He was assigned to the mail office work crew, but considers now taking the offer to be a tutor for the Mandarin language for interested students, staff and faculty.
Yang finds that there are many cultural differences between the U.S. and China. Coming from the Water City, as Liaocheng is also called, he had to get used to the surrounding mountains. The food is the most obvious difference, but also the lifestyle, the relationship between people and the environment are also different in the U.S.
“I don’t have a big culture shock, because I like this place, the teachers, the staff and the students,” he said. “Everybody is very friendly. It’s cool to be here.”
John McCaul, 21, is from Northern Ireland and he is very proud of his heritage. One of his goals as a foreign exchange student from Queen’s University in Belfast is to share his culture with fellow students at Warren Wilson. He is planning an Irish event at Sage Café in October with Irish food, movies and music. Another Irish event is planned around St. Patrick’s Day in March, a traditional holiday “as important as Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” John said. People who do not know how to consult a leprechaun to find the hidden pot of gold at the end of the rainbow should not miss the St. Patrick’s Day event.
Even though English is his native language, it is difficult for John to make himself understood. His Irish accent and intonation are very different from American English. And then, John speaks Irish, also known as Gaelic, or Gaelige in his language. Sounds, words and the alphabet do not have much in common with the English language as he demonstrated in his Public Speaking class.
“This is my favorite class,” John said. “Graham Paul is a very good teacher.”
John wants to gain more confidence in extemporaneous speaking and become more professional. But also, he enjoys having the chance to talk about Ireland.
At Queen’s University of Belfast, John studies history and politics, which he is passionate about. At Warren Wilson he is taking microeconomics as well as the leadership and management class which he finds beneficial for his major. More than his classes he appreciates learning from Cathy Kramer and Shuli Archer in the Service Program Office.
“They are doing great work,” he said.
In Ireland, John was a volunteer in his community helping children with disabilities in a hospital. Working with his crew at Warren Wilson, for the first time he heard about the issues of food security and homelessness. Getting to know the many non-profit organizations in Buncombe county which help to feed children, families, the elderly and the ill, John was amazed. Coming from Ireland, that was not the image he had of the world’s largest economy.
John has also gotten involved with sports on campus. As a passionate soccer player, he decided to join Wilson’s team.
“Playing sports is a great way to meet and get to know people,” he said. As interested as he is to dive into the American culture, John hopes that people at Warren Wilson are interested to learn about Irish traditions through his planned events. “Keep an eye out for posters announcing the Irish culture night”, he said.
Academic achievement is not the priority for Philipp Gonder, 25, who is a senior at the German partner university of applied sciences in Trier. He already took all required classes for his major in international business to graduate and came to Warren Wilson to take classes in sustainable business and classes outside his major which are not offered in Trier.
“The program in Trier allows me to only choose electives within the classical business curriculum,” Gonder said. “But at Warren Wilson I am in classes of my interest such as public speaking and introduction to musical theory.”
Theatre, musicals especially, are Gonder’s passion. He has been singing and acting in several productions in Germany and would like to continue performing professionally. He is excited to be part of the theatre performance at Warren Wilson this fall semester.
Gonder did not come directly to Warren Wilson, but flew into New York for a three-week detour. He visited New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, DC, Raleigh, Charlotte and the Outer Banks before he settled down in Swannanoa.
Asheville was not an unknown dot on the map for Gonder before he came to the college; back in Trier, the oldest city of Germany, close to Luxembourg, he became friends with an American soldier who was stationed close by. He moved back to his hometown years ago, which is Asheville. This friendship encouraged Gonder to apply to study in the US, not knowing initially how close Warren Wilson was to Asheville. But he found that it is great to have a friend outside of campus who can introduce him to the culture and community in Asheville.
One of the six foreign exchange students at Warren Wilson this semester is Bua (pronounced “Boo-ah”). But her actual name is Napak Patthanachuanchom. She is Thai, 21 years old and a student of Payap University in Chaingmai. She is majoring in English, which is what brought her to study abroad at Warren Wilson.
What amazed the 21-year-old student the most coming to the college is the fact that “the college is like a big city with so many buildings and connecting pathways. Everything we need is right here.”
She says that Payap University is much smaller and there are less trees on campus.
The adjustment is not easy for Bua, because she is shy about speaking English and about the cultural differences. She is happy to be part of the dining room work crew, because she says, “l love to cook for a lot of people.”
Getting up at 6 a.m. to prepare breakfast is not her favorite part, though.
“Warren Wilson has a great women’s soccer team”, she said after watching their first game.
Bua is a huge soccer fan and was on the soccer and basketball teams at Payap University. She is also interested in music and playing the drums in a band. She is not participating in any activities at school at this time, because she feels she needs to focus on the academic challenges in English, her non-native language.
Bua will study for two semesters in the Swannanoa Valley and hopes to be able to be part of some fun activities starting in January.
Veronica (Jihye) Han, 22, is a foreign exchange student from Hannam University in Daejeon, South Korea. She majors in Global Studies and came to Warren Wilson for two semesters for several reasons. Most importantly, she hopes to improve her English skills, but she is also curious about the cultural differences between the U.S. and South Korea. In class and during lunch time she shares specifics about Korea such as “women wearing rubber shoes backwards.”
While people in Western Carolina complain about the rain and humidity of this summer, Han finds it rather dry.
“The humidity is much higher in Daejeon”, she said.
But more striking than the weather is the differences in people’s behavior.
“The students at Warren Wilson are open-minded, have a great school spirit and are really, really nice,” she said. “I love the way they care about the environment and each other.”
In Korea, people do not talk to each other unless they know each other well.
“Here, people smile at me even when they have never met me before”, she said.
Han, though she did not expect to, has met other foreign exchange students, and has learned about other countries in addition to the U.S. Meeting a lot of people and learning from them is one of Han’s goals for this year. She hopes that fellow students are interested to learn about South Korea by asking her questions, such as why women wear rubber shoes backwards.