International Student and Scholar Services and the University of Utah were pleased to host 2015’s UGRAD Re-Entry Workshop for international students studying in the U.S. in partnership with The Department of State’s World Learning Program.
The workshop, which ran from April 1-3, hosted 83 participants from countries as varied as Yemen, Pakistan, India, Oman, Nigeria, Uganda, and more.
Through the hard work of International Student and Scholar Services Director Chalimar Swain, Associate Director Jessica Schlotfeldt, as well as student assistants Chaise Edebiri and Lacey Johnson, the University of Utah was not only able to successfully apply for the highly competitive opportunity to host the re-entry workshop, but see it through to its successful end.
The Department of State runs a number of programs that bring international students to study in the United States. One such program, known as World Learning, brings students from across the globe to study in the United States for a year.
These students are coming from countries that are typically underrepresented as part of the scholarship program. They come over and take classes for a year, as well as participating in community service and an internship.
The University of Utah itself, usually hosts somewhere between four to six students from the World Learning Program each year, according to Director of International Student and Scholar Services, Chalimar Swain.
At the end of each year, World Learning hosts a re-entry workshop for all of the international students who have spent a year in the U.S. to help prepare them to return to their home countries.
“They talk about not only re-entry shock, but also go over what they have learned, what they are going to do with that information, and what their goals are for using what they’ve learned,” Swain said.
Throughout the re-entry workshop students were able to participate in a number of academic and social experiences that not only helped to prepare them for their return journeys to their home countries, but also provided them a small taste of the culture of the University of Utah, and the Salt Lake Valley as well.
“We offered a combination of workshops on goal setting, paying forward leadership skills in their home community, and re-entry shock,” Swain said. “We did a number of experiential activities as well. Students participated in a community service activity at the Social Justice Gardens to give the students an idea of service opportunities here in Salt Lake.”
As part of their community service activity, the group visited a local elementary school where they learned a little bit about food instability by helping to plant a garden and directly engage with the local community.
In addition to the community service project, the students were able to visit the National Ability Center in Park City where they participated in a number of learning activities that directly tied into the goals of the workshop.
“We ended up doing a series of activities with the students that provided some experiential learning opportunities that tied into the concepts the Department of State wanted the to take home,” Swain said. “Learning resiliency, team leadership, and working through challenges; these were all things that they are going to need in their home countries to really use what they’ve learned here.”
The students were also given a private tour of the Natural History Museum, after which they participated in a reflection activity during which they created a poster that gave a visual representation of their time in Utah.
“A lot of them had no idea what Utah was really like. There were originally some complaints when they first found out they were going to be attending the re-entry workshop in Utah, but by the time they left, they were actually tweeting with the hashtag #weareallutes,” Swain said. “They were just blown away by how beautiful it is here and I think that the activities that we had stretched them a little bit more than just sitting in a classroom listening to lectures for an extended period of time.”
Culturally speaking, the students were able to not only share some of their own background and history through, presentations, poetry, and open forum, but were also able to experience a number of Utah specific cultural events including a performance by the Little Feathers Native American Dancers.
For Swain, the re-entry workshop provided an opportunity for her to directly impact student lives in a manner that isn’t normally afforded to her, which was an aspect of the event she was especially pleased with.
“For me it was a very unique experience. To actually be in that role, working with a group of students on day to day activities was really fun,” Swain said. “It was a reminder for me of why I do what I do. I get the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and hear their stories.”
In the end, the cross cultural exchange and the opportunity for these international students to prepare for their return trips to their home countries was what Swain said made the workshop such a large success. Her hope is that by the very nature of the international experience the re-entry workshop represents, these students will be able to return to their home countries with the knowledge and planning to truly act as effective future leaders.
“Having an international studying opportunity is supposed to be the type of experience that makes you think about the culture that you’re in and your home culture which really promotes that intercultural understanding and it was neat to see that,” Swain said.