April 28, 2003
International Living Center bridges cultures,
By Jennifer McNulty
When exchange student Midori Iwanabe arrived at UCSC from Tokyo last
September, she felt nervous about interacting with American students
and apprehensive about the U.S. university system. Seven months later,
Iwanabe is a successful student with a network of close friends.
The campus is invited to attend the dedication of the International
Living Center at College Nine on Friday, May 2, from 11:30 a.m.
to 12:30 p.m. between Apartment Buildings 4 and 5.
|Midori Iwanabe shares a two-bedroom apartment
with exchange students from France and Australia, as well as two
students from the United States. Photo:
"I have a feeling of belonging here," said Iwanabe, who credits
College Nines new International Living Center (ILC) with providing
support and a sense of community. "When I arrived, I didnt
know anybody. Now, almost every night my friends come for tea. Its
more a feeling of living in America than just visiting."
Iwanabe shares a two-bedroom apartment with exchange students from
France and Australia, as well as two students from the United States.
Her housemates have helped Iwanabe with English and shared American
traditions with her, and she has taught them about Japanese cooking
and shared her own traditions.
Like a mini-United Nations, the ILC opened last fall to foster cross-cultural
understanding and is now home to more than 100 undergraduates, about
half of whom are exchange students from other countries. The center
has organized camping and rafting getaways, as well as trips to Los
Angeles and San Jose. It even sponsored a trip to San Francisco to celebrate
Halloween in the citys Castro District.
For exchange students like Iwanabe, the ILC makes it easy to meet other
international students and to connect with American students who have
an affinity for different cultures. "American students have families
and friends here," said Iwanabe. "They have someone to call,
and we dont."
Many ILC students, including Carry van Lieshout of the Netherlands,
said cultural identities often fade into the background. "Often
when I meet people, I dont know where theyre from,"
said van Lieshout. "I just talk to them."
Many of the ILC residents from the United States have studied abroad
or are planning to study overseas, said van Lieshout. "Other students
in my classes, when I tell them where Im from, they dont
know, and that feels weird," she added.
Sehun Oh is a sociology student from Korea who said he chose the ILC
because he wanted to learn about different cultures. "Korea doesnt
have a lot of foreigners, so we dont know the perspectives of
other cultures," said Oh, who shares an apartment with housemates
from Turkey, Russia, Japan, and the United States.
Like housemates everywhere, ILC residents have had to work out differences
over things like food preparation, study habits, noise levels, and socializing,
which sometimes reveal cultural differences. "Its hard to
understand how far you can go and how much you can accept of other cultures,"
said Iwanabe. As a nonnative English speaker, Iwanabe says she spends
more time studying than some of her peers and has felt the sting of
the stereotype that "Asian students are quiet and study all the
"We have to break down that wall," said Iwanabe. "Its
really good, because we can learn from each other."
Of course, breaking down stereotypes and bridging cultural gaps takes
some effort, and many ILC students have firsthand experience with the
"You know the old adage, treat others as you want to be treated?
Its really more that youve got to learn how others want
to be treated," said Andrew Wright, a math student from Edinburgh,
Scotland. "Youve got to talk to them, communicate with them--thats
extremely important. Youve got to learn how they want to be treated,
and then youve got to respect it."
Iwanabes housemate Andrew Birchett of Mountain View, Calif.,
transferred to UCSC in September from De Anza College and chose to live
at the ILC because hed "thrived" in De Anzas diverse
environment. Despite differences that emerge in day-to-day multicultural
living, Birchett said the ILC provides valuable opportunities for deeper
"The trivial differences seem unsurpassable in some ways, but
when you get beyond those trivialities, you see were more similar
than different," said Birchett.