What is college in Italy like? Should people call you by a nickname that they find easier to pronounce than your given name? What kinds of questions are appropriate to ask about you and your country?
During an interactive panel presentation in Chase Small on March 22, international students Yuchen Wang (China), Theoni Varoudaki (Greece), Weiqi Feng (China) and Lorenzo Condemi (Italy) responded to these questions and others from an enthusiastic audience that included President Hanno, faculty, staff and students.
Organized and moderated by Wheaton-Emerson Writing Fellow Angie Sarhan, who teaches First Year Writing (English 101) and Writing for Non-Native Speakers of English (English 060), the session opened with a short video made by junior Khalid Al-Sudairy (Saudi Arabia). After watching the video, which featured international students stating what they like most about Wheaton, each panelist spoke about why they had chosen Wheaton and what they valued about their experience. (Al-Sudairy had planned to participate in the panel but had to drop out when weather conditions delayed his return flight from spring break.)
Professor Sarhan, who also tutors students in writing, proposed the idea for the panel as part of her writing fellowship work, aimed at sharing issues and research related to writing pedagogy. Sarhan noted that while many presentations feature experts talking about the international student experience, it would be helpful to hear directly from the students themselves. “As closely as I work with our international students, I don’t always have the opportunity to ask them questions about their lives here in America and at Wheaton. I’ve been curious to learn more about their perspectives in the hopes it can better inform my teaching and tutoring. A panel felt like the ideal opportunity for our community to gain valuable insight into their experience and perhaps inspire us in some way.”
Throughout the discussion, students offered their opinions and then noted that others had different views. Asked about the use of American names instead of their given names, for example, Theoni Varoudaki offered that some students welcomed it, while others did not. (For a perspective criticizing the use of American names, see “Learn Students’ Real Names” in the February 17 2016 Wheaton Wire, written by Leury Holguin ’19.) Weiqi Feng, who goes by Weltch, is comfortable with the practice; and another student, Shi, offered that when people mispronounce her name, it’s difficult to even recognize it as her own, so she’s adopted the nickname Daria.
Asked about challenges they faced, Yuchen Wang wished that people would ask more questions about their countries and cultures. Theoni Varoudaki was quick to add a caveat: “but not ignorant questions,” she said. “Someone once asked me if Greece was in South America.”
The panelists praised Wheaton’s welcoming environment and the close contact with professors, which they saw in stark contrast to universities in their home countries. Lorenzo Condemi explained, “In Italy, professors sit up, on a platform above the students so that they are always looking down. The students always call them by their last name. When I told my mother that my professor told me to call her ‘Angie,’ she choked on a piece of pasta!” Lorenzo’s comment evoked warm laughter from the panel and the audience.
It was a shared moment in defying a xenophobic era.
The writing program will continue to host additional events bringing together students, faculty and staff. Look for us at Welcome to Wheaton Day, when ESL specialist Ruth Foley will offer Poems on Demand.