On Wednesday afternoons, part of the Health Services building turns into a temporary hub for students from all different backgrounds to share foods from their cultures while Fred Shueh makes bubble tea. Some days just a few students come to the meeting, while other days, as many as ten gather to share their stories and hear from others.
The intercultural connection group at Miami University’s Student Counseling Services gives students a chance to connect with people from different cultures and develop cultural competency.
Shueh, coordinator of counseling services for international students, said the group is open to both international and domestic students.
“We want to provide an environment, a setting that all students can feel comfortable and safe to talk about all types of cultural experiences and concerns,” Shueh said.
Shueh said students are welcome to come to as many or as few sessions as they want, as the group has a drop-in policy. The group meets every Wednesday in the Health Services building from 3:30 to 5 p.m.
Shueh created the group in the spring of 2015 for international students, then opened it up to all students soon after.
Originally from Taiwan, Shueh was exposed to different cultures from a young age when his father brought him to different religious institutions while conducting research for a book.
“This made it easy for me to see things from multiple perspectives,” Shueh said. “And I think that’s really a blessing for me because this helps me connect with different people now.”
Culture is not confined just to geographical areas, Shueh said. It can include many things, including differences in gender, sex, race or ethnicity.
Meeting people from different cultures allows students to make new friends and business connections Shueh said. It also exposes domestic students to different perspectives and gives international students the opportunity to learn about American culture, helping them assimilate.
Jing Luo, international coordinator for Global Initiatives, said interacting with domestic students helps international students succeed academically, as they must work with American students and professors in class.
“You want a degree,” Luo said. “You want to have a high GPA. All of those things are based on how many interactions you have with American professors, with American classmates in an academic setting. And all of those softer skills will help them achieve academic success in the end.”
Many companies like to hire students who have multicultural experiences because they want to hire students who can work with a wide variety of people.
Luo said there is a cultural divide between domestic and international students at Miami — although this is also a national trend. One reason for the divide is people’s natural instinct to interact with others who are similar to them.
The more students of one ethnicity there are, the more likely they are to stay only with people of that group. So, Chinese students, who comprise the largest portion of Miami’s international students, are more likely to avoid interaction with domestic students than students from countries who may only have a few peers at Miami, such as students from Iran or Egypt, Luo said.
Graduate student Natalee Price attended the first few sessions of the intercultural group this semester and said she enjoyed meeting a few international students and learning more about other countries, including China, Taiwan, Bulgaria and Turkey.
Price said she learned more about the climate surrounding undergraduate students, which might be easy to miss as a graduate student. It also helped her understand how international students transition to a new place and how they can start to bridge the gap with domestic students.
Price was required to attend a multicultural organization as part of her graduate studies in clinical psychology and chose the intercultural group because she could experience a variety of perspectives from a variety of people, rather than an organization that only facilitates one-on-one interactions, such as Global Buddies.
Spending time with the intercultural group is beneficial for Price’s studies because it’s important for her to understand how people interact and the similarities and differences between people across cultures, she said.
Shueh was good at leading group discussion, Price said, and she appreciates everything he does for the group.
“It means a lot there are individuals who do care about helping students transition to a very new place beyond just orientation,” Price said.