Breaking Stereotypes by Building Bridges

International Day's celebration last year included flags from the countries represented by the college's international students. Photo by Jennifer Tharp

Approximately 103 countries (out of 195 total) around the globe are represented by the 1300 international and immigrant students attending the college, according to Kim Steinmetz of International & Immigrant Services (IISS). While the primary mission of IISS is student intake, they are aware of students who have experienced confusion over language and culture or micro-aggressions.

Steinmetz defines a micro-aggression as “an unintentional word or action that may harm someone based on their race, identity, sexual orientation or just overall self-view.” She said, “I like to think of it like a mosquito bite. Some of us get bites rarely and some of us get a lot. Well, if you’re constantly being bit, you’re obviously going to be a lot more sensitive.”

Dessa Crum, coordinator of IISS, said, “Sometimes people say things that are not meant to be offensive, but they do hurt.” Crum teaches English as Second Language (ESL) in which she brings together academic and life skills for students.

One way the college lessens these indirect, unintentional offenses for both domestic and international students is by encouraging students to attend events where they can meet and learn from one another, like English Conversation Hour which meets every other Wednesday and International Club, one of the largest clubs on campus. According to Steinmetz and Crum, it is important for students to get beyond seeing each other as stereotypes and nationalities.

Dianne Hernandez, a non-traditional student who immigrated from the United Kingdom in 1991, said before she came to the United States, she thought all Americans were rich. This is just one misconception that left Hernandez feeling misunderstood when she first arrived.

“People were so friendly and welcoming, but couldn’t understand me,” Hernandez said. “My accent was so heavy, and I used different terminology. Being from England people always assume I am very proper and posh: this I am not. I came from a very working-class area of the United Kingdom. My family are very good people who are not that unlike Americans.”

The difficulty Hernandez faced being a native English speaker was mirrored and multiplied in students for whom English is a second or third language. Feven Zewdie is a Neurodiagnostic Technology student from Ethiopia and English isn’t her first language.

“I do have lots of challenges as a mother of three kids and a full-time student,” Zewdie said. “Language is my other challenge. The school is helping me out with childcare and I also use the writing center, tutors and different websites provided by the school to help on my language challenge.”

Her many responsibilities leave her little time to attend clubs and activities on campus, but Zewdie said, “A big welcome, smile, experience sharing, willingness to help out and having a positive mind would make international students feel welcomed by non-international students.”

Victoria Corral-Vale, a Student Engagement ambassador and international student from Mexico said her experience at the college has been nothing but positive. When she first came to the college a little over a year ago, she felt nervous about not knowing any one and realized quickly that learning English and speaking it conversationally were not quite the same thing. Corral-Vale said students and teachers were patient and welcoming. The college’s large, diverse international population and activities were helpful and made Vale feel included and less isolated.

“I knew English before coming here, but once you are here it is totally different,” Corral-Vale said. “I kind of struggle with speaking. I am still working on it, and there are a lot of people here helping and understanding that it is difficult for people to speak really fluently…It is a pleasure to know there are other international students who have experienced different things like me.”

Corral-Vale started working as a Student Life ambassador in order to continue making friends, practice her English and help others feel welcome on campus as faculty and students have made her feel.

“Language learning is about time and practice and experience,” Crum said. “You don’t always necessarily have that if you don’t know people who are speaking that language. [Without] somebody to practice with, it could be a very difficult thing to do.”

According to Steinmetz, non-international students sometimes forget they also have a culture to share and students who are studying foreign languages or wanting to study abroad have the perfect opportunity to meet students with whom they can learn and practice their foreign language skills. Domestic students have a tremendous opportunity to break down stereotypes and expand worldviews.

“I think sometimes we don’t really see how fortunate we are to have such a diverse population, that we’re able to hear from people who have such different experiences and are from different places,” Crum said. “People are able to meet one another and learn from one another, I think it helps build community a little bit. It’s been great to see friendships being built.”

The English Conversation Hour is a Free Coffee & Conversation meeting that gives students the opportunity to make friends and practice conversational skills.  It is open to all students and meets every other Wednesday in OCB, Free coffee and cookies, 3-4 p.m., OCB 107, Oct. 2, Oct. 16, Nov. 13, Dec. 11

The International Club Is one of the biggest clubs on campus and meets In COM 155, every other Wednesday, 3-4p.m.

JCCC’S Great Decisions Group: IISS Invites students twice a month on Thursdays, 2-3:30 p.m. in the CoLab Learning Studio, OCB 107 to learn about the impact of recent and current events regarding world economy, foreign conflicts and more. Everyone is welcome to join in the discussion!


Story by Penny Thieme



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