At the beginning of this semester, I was introduced to a new part of Drury’s identity. I became a mentor with the English for Academic Purposes program, which is designed alongside the International Students Association to help students acclimate to college life and academic expectations within the United States. Initially, I did not anticipate the effects that the program and its participants would have on me, or the things that I would learn from them. Now, however, I recognize that EAP and ISA are immensely valuable sources of cultural exposure and community on campus, and that they are easily as relevant to American students as they are to internationals.
Currently, my role in EAP is that of a language and culture mentor. This means that I have the opportunity to collaborate with new international students on school assignments, and to attend community and/or campus-wide events with them as they become accustomed to “life on The Lane.” I have found that my understandings of Drury and of American culture have been significantly enriched by getting to know EAP students.
Something that has surprised me about my experience in the EAP program is the different perspective that it has granted me in regard to my daily life and surroundings. When I spend time talking with the EAP students, I am encouraged to revisit and reexamine aspects of American culture that I have not always considered to be very noteworthy. Then, I am led to acknowledge that these seemingly inconsequential aspects are actually important mediums for social and cultural communication. Questions ranging from “Do you all ever eat meat that is not between bread?” to “Why all the hugging?” and “Why is the drinking age 21 even though you become a legal adult at 18?” spark intriguing conversations about the implications of cultural norms and practices which are typically accepted at face-value. However, when I spend time with the EAP students, they open up a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds that alter my perception of routine exchanges and cultural habits. It’s an interesting experience to look at your culture through the eyes of an immersion program participant. You never know what you will be urged to notice next.
While EAP has supplemented my experience within my own culture, it has been equally educational as a window into other cultures. Such a trait is arguably self-evident in the context of an international program, but it is still worthy of report. Drury prides itself on its study abroad options, but there also exists a relatively untapped well of opportunity for cross-cultural experience right here on campus. Students will undoubtedly notice this during the International Food Festival, but the Drury student body has the potential for even greater occasions of intercultural activity. This claim is visually supported by the flags hanging in Olin Library. Each one stands for a country that has been represented by international students at Drury, and together they present a striking display of the school’s capacity for cross-cultural engagement.
This semester, helping as a mentor in EAP has been extremely rewarding, because I have been able to build relationships with fellow students who have different backgrounds, religious and/or political views, and first languages than my own. These interactions have presented ample learning opportunities for everyone involved, and they continually encourage the development of respect and curiosity across cultural divisions. At a liberal arts school which places emphasis on global engagement, the existence of EAP and ISA programs is an exceedingly valuable resource that has the potential to not only introduce international students to US culture, but to introduce native students to international culture. In the future, I hope that we will see these programs grow into an even larger part of Drury’s identity. As members of the Drury community, we owe it to each other to learn about our different backgrounds, and to come together in the creation of a meaningful and shared collegiate experience.