Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Commons Campaign: International Initiative

International Initiative
Josie Sittig, Andrea Miller, Daniela Rincon, Cole Luther

            For our Commons Campaign, we wanted to raise cultural awareness among international and American students in order to create a stronger community on campus. Our rhetorical situation initially came from a problem that is recurrent among students, and that has affected and divided our generation: using stereotypes to create quick assumptions about people. Our rhetorical problem was found by thinking about how at certain points in our own lives we have limited our brains to assume and accept facts that in a certain way are just common perceptions of reality. Based on our everyday experiences, we were able to say that most college students, at some point in their college careers, have stereotyped people who don’t follow what their brains categorize as a ‘typical student.’ This problem has generated a cultural barrier between international and American students, an issue that has gotten to a point where friendships between both types of students are not as common as they should be; taking into consideration that UNL is a culturally diverse university.      
At the root of this problem is the lack of cultural knowledge and awareness among UNL students. This lack of knowledge has prevented students, regardless of their nationality, from getting to know new people because they take assumptions as facts. When we accept the belief that what we barely know about someone is completely true, we are denying others the possibility of showing us how different reality is from our assumptions. As a result, our major constraint is that UNL students may already have stereotypes about certain cultures based on what they see on the media or what they wrongly assume about their own country.
The Commons Campaign was our opportunity to show a new vision of culture to both types of students. In this way, the opportunities that we found in this project were: celebrating diversity through different activities on campus, understating both sides of this issue and showing students the world that is around them, at least on campus.
This is a fitting way to produce social change because our goal is to provide solutions in our community for a major issue in our society. In order to create a more culturally aware environment on campus, we hosted different activities where students could share their cultures and learn the importance of recognizing each other’s backgrounds. All the information provided was accessible for students since we used social media to spread the importance of this issue and the events on campus to spread our message.
This is a creative approach because we turned one of the biggest problems of our generation (assuming stereotypes about others) into a reduced scope that affects the community we belong to. We are not planning to eradicate the problem, but to improve the roots of this issue by giving students the space and platforms where they can learn to recognize each other’s differences and build a stronger community on campus.
To get the ball rolling, we created surveys for international and domestic students here at UNL. We used two different platforms, Facebook posts, as well as printed copies. We received quite a few responses from students, which gave us a reliable gage of the current comfort level between international and American students. It seemed as if a lot of international students said they were very comfortable here on campus, whether they just wrote that down or they honestly felt that way, we were unsure. The surveys were just the beginning; we had much more in store. We decided our next plan of attack, in order to gain sufficient knowledge, as well as take action was to set up a booth during UNL’s Culture Shock.
This is an event where international students set up booths representing their home counties. At these booths, they handed out traditional foods from their homeland and answered questions bystanders had about their culture. We set up our own “International Initiative” booth. We provided Krispy Kreme doughnuts for people walking by our booth to try. Surprisingly, many international students had never had them before. Another big part of our plan was to initiate a Pen Pal program. We decided this would be the perfect way to build relationships across cultures. We went around gathering contact information from students who were interested. Our goal was to get at least fifty emails, twenty-five international students, and twenty-five domestic students. At random, we matched an international student with an American student and they had the option to contact one another. This way they were able to learn about each other at their own pace, and hopefully, keep in touch.
Our last piece was a video we created encapsulating our experience throughout the semester. A lot of the video was filmed during Culture Shock, where we took numerous photos with students from across the globe. We also have a couple interviews with students, talking about why exploring cultures other than their own is important. This video was the perfect way to bring our campaign together.
At Culture Shock our World Map booth was very successful. Our group talked to many students, and made a lot of connections. Stationed in the middle of the green space, our group had a large world map sign taped down on one side of the table and fun facts and memes on the other side. Cole took on the role of being photographer, and caught the experience of Culture Shock by walking around and snapping photos. The energy at Culture Shock was amazing as there were 44 different cultures at the green space celebrating diversity. There were dancing tigers, a henna booth, and a live band playing all types of different music. There were even a couple student acts such as a Spanish dance club performance, and a ukulele performance by an international student. At our booth one of the activities we asked students to do was to trace their hand and write down their nationality, as well as something they learned at Culture Shock. At the end of the day our booth was overflowing with many posters, created not only by UNL students, but also by many children who were also attending the event. It was really cool to see that the outer Lincoln community was also apart of the celebration. A common theme in the decorated posters was that culture is something to celebrate, and that it brings people together.
Along with asking the students and children to decorate posters, we also asked UNL students to sign up to participate in a Pen Pal program we created.
As an incentive to get students to sign up for the Pen Pal program, everyone in our group bought a gift card to give out to four lucky students. The Pen Pal list was a way bigger hit than we originally anticipated. Andrea has been sending out a couple follow-up emails since the program has started making sure the Pen Pals don’t run out of ideas to talk about and can still connect. Currently, we have 13 Pen Pal pairs actively participating in this program.  
           We had multiple visions when creating our commons campaign. Some of these visions pulled through, while others fell a little short of our expectations. When designing our proposal, we discussed the lack of cultural knowledge and awareness among racially diverse groups, particularly on UNL’s campus.
            We first discussed hosting cultural events in the Nebraska Union. During these events we would design ways to make learning about culture fun and relaxing but how would these one-time events live on beyond that day? We needed to find a way to make a lasting impact on the students attending UNL. This is when our pen-pal idea was born. If we could find American and Internationally born students and pair them up they could learn so much about one another; not only personal information but cultural information, as well. We also created a Facebook page in an attempt to get people interested in learning about cultures but it was difficult to get conversations started and individuals involved. By switching from Facebook conversation to creating a YouTube video, we have been able to reach the millions of people who access YouTube every day.
            Instead of hosting small events in the Union, we made arrangements to host one large event that would, without a doubt, allow us to reach hundreds of culturally diverse individual’s. Obtaining permission to set up a booth during the Culture Shock campus event proved to be a fantastic idea. There were over 50 students, just attending the culture shock, interested in having a Pen Pal. Through emailing weekly discussion questions to captivated students, we were able to help facilitate the discussion between the Pen Pals. In spite of our attempt to eliminate the non-responsive students, by sending out a generic ‘are you still interested’ email, to all who signed up we still received feedback from students who were unable to make contact with their partner. If given this opportunity again, we would begin our Pen Pal search earlier so that students with non-responsive partners could be paired up a second time with a new Pen Pal.
            Our hope is that that this project leaves a permanent impression on international relations between students, especially the ones who participated in our Pen Pal campaign. We want UNL to be the optimal destination for any and all international students wanting an American education. The first step in obtaining this aspiration is by showing all students how each culture is beautifully unique. Without opportunities, knowledge cannot be gained, and without knowledge, we are left in a world of wonder and ignorance.  

Videos: On Facebook Page 

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