GREAT FALLS — November 17th is a day that recognizes students globally, highlighting the cultural diversity and the culture that students bring to the community and the world.
The date commemorates the anniversary of the Nazis storming the University of Prague (Also known as Charles University of Prague) in Prague, Czechia. In 1939, the Nazis rounded up and killed a large number of students after demonstrations against the German occupation of Czechoslovakia.
November 17th holds a special kind of meaning – a celebration of international students and multiculturalism. For countries such as Czechia and Slovakia, it is a public holiday.
While many in the United States may not have known or heard of International Students Day, it is celebrated by many Universities.
The University of Providence (UP) has a number of international students that make their way from all around the world.
“We are so lucky at the University of Providence, that through our athletics program, we’ve been able to bring in students from all around the globe,” said Dr. Katrina Stark, who serves as the Professor of Business Administration and Coordinator for Study Abroad at University of Providence. “I have students in my classes currently who are from England, Spain, Columbia, Venezuela, Ghana, Kenya, and of course, from Canada. It just adds such a neat dimension into our classes where U.S. students who perhaps never traveled, get to hear that there’s a much broader world.”
Katrina said what makes international students stand out from the in-state or out-of-state student is observing and hearing about their unique differences.
“My student from London said, ‘You have so much wildlife here. All we have are dogs and cats in London’. The immensity of our landscape is always a ‘Wow’ moment. The fact that some of our students travel hundreds of miles just to go home, and also that so many people here are so friendly. They’ve enjoyed saying, ‘I was at the gas station, and this person helped me out. Thank you Great Falls for being so welcoming to our international students.”
Students, Martyna Fiedler and Jenna Thorne are not just international students. They are also student-athletes competing in Volleyball.
Fielder is a freshman from Szczytniki, Poland. She explained what it was like when she first arrived in the States.
“When I first came here, I just didn’t know how to speak English,” she said. “Back home, we never spoke English. It’s not my first language. I came here, and I was like, ‘How do I say something?’ I was super stressed. I feel like that was the biggest difference.”
Thorne is a senior from Karitane, New Zealand. She said Volleyball is what enticed her to come to the U.S.
“Back home in New Zealand, Volleyball isn’t as big as it is over here,” she said. “It’s obviously growing, but it’s nowhere near the same level. Another reason is that I wanted to get out of my hometown, so why not move 8-thousand miles away.”
While New Zealand shares cultural similarities with the U.S., there were still some adjustments that Thorne had to make.
Thorne said, “back home, we speak a little bit faster than people do over here. The amount of times people would be like, ‘I don’t know what you said’. I would have to repeat myself so many times. We have different lingo or slang back at home. Explaining it to an American was sometimes pretty interesting,” she laughed. “Obviously driving in the opposite side of the road as well. Some people think I am a really bad driver, but I beg to differ.”
Despite some of the small challenges along the way, the two had positive experiences being in the U.S. from meeting new people, to learning American culture.
“I don’t see any bad things being here honestly,” Fiedler said. “Maybe just missing home. People here are different, but they understand that I am not speaking English back home, so they don’t judge me. They try to be supportive.”
Stark said she has been pleased with how welcoming Great Falls is to international students. She said there has been great success with the University’s study abroad.
“We’re rebuilding that interest,” Stark said. “It will probably take us a year or two to get trips in place. We might have students that choose to do a summer session abroad … We’re really looking at summer programs, summer trips abroad with faculty, and just getting students who perhaps haven’t traveled much, or at all, to see how wonderfully broad the world is.”