Though the theme is global, the feeling is definitely that of a village at BGSU’s newest residential learning community. The Global Village opened its doors in Conklin this semester with 38 students in residence, representing 14 countries in addition to the United States.
“Here, there’s a feeling of community,” said Sophia Woodward, a sophomore exchange student from England who attends Aberystwyth University in Wales.
Residents of the Global Village enjoy camaraderie at the celebration.
Divided almost equally between international and American students, males and females, the village pairs international and American students as roommates for true sharing of cultures. Led by Drs. Kristie Foell, who is also director of the International Studies Program, and Jeffrey Grilliot, director of global initiatives, the community also has help from graduate assistant Natsuko Tohyama, who is Japanese.
Woodward, a theatre and film major, said she chose to come to the United States as an exchange student because “I thought I should experience another culture before growing up,” and living in the Global Village, “I’m actually surprised at how much of a global experience I’m getting.”
The village has taken “global” to a new level, the students and faculty say. The community includes a student from Paris whose passport is Ugandan, a Nigerian girl from London, another student from Africa who has been in Russia the last couple of years, and a Russian and a Chinese student who have decided to room together because they are both music majors.
“Even among the Americans, there is also diversity in terms of urban and rural, race and ethnicity and religious diversity,” Foell said. “The thing we would like to increase in the future is the socioeconomic diversity of the international students. We’d love to be able to offer scholarships to enable more to come here.
“The village truly embodies the goal of a learning community to bridge the academic and the social aspects of University life,” she said. With students from Japan, Ghana, Ethiopia, South Korea, Armenia and England, the conversations and activities are wide-ranging.
When Monitor visited, the group was practicing hard to learn a dance to a popular Japanese song for one of the Japanese students’ surprise 21st birthday party. Eventually, each student will formally share something of his or her culture, whether through food, a presentation or other means.
Though the first month or so of planned programming has focused on “ice breakers,” Foell and Grilliot said, all indications are that the ice has long been broken and connections are well under way
“Unlike in other dorms, you’ll already see people hanging out here,” said Josh Grisdale, a freshman from Delaware, Ohio, majoring in political science and philosophy. “One thing that’s unusual is that people here have a much greater willingness to discuss our pasts. Everybody here is so open to discussing how they were brought up.”
This has enhanced and extended the discussions that take place in the required International Studies class taken by all residents. “The other night we spent about two hours talking about Ethiopia,” Grisdale said.
Likewise, discussions have gone on about comparative health care systems and the European Union—not typical topics outside of class, according to Grisdale. The international students’ reactions to some things about the United States have startled him, he said, such as his English friend James Howell’s observation about how much more heavily censored American television is. “I realize how different America is in ways I didn’t see before,” Grisdale said.
Foell noted that a recent activity in which students discuss a newspaper story turned into a “very powerful learning experience” when the Armenian student brought in a story on the conflict between her country and Azerbaijan, two places that are generally unfamiliar to Americans. Having her first-person account put a human face on a story that previously would likely have gone unnoticed, Foell said.
The fact that students are naturally talking about issues and comparing values in a friendly environment perfectly complements the goals of the required course, which is also a BG Experience class, Foell noted. She and Dr. Nancy Brendlinger, journalism, teach the course sections.
“Students here are so willing to speak up and to tackle really difficult topics,” Foell said. “We had a very good discussion on American hegemony recently, with many really interesting points of view from our international students—and I understand from the R.A. that this discussion continued long after the class ended. That’s what college is supposed to be like!”
“This is the focal point for a lot of global exchanges,” Grilliot said.
‘A welcoming place’
The Global Village was four years in the planning, making its way through 11 University committees and the board of trustees. Support and input came from many across campus, including the College of Arts and Sciences; the International Studies Advisory Committee; German, Russian and East Asian languages; Dr. Federico Chalupa, romance and classical studies; Executive Vice President Linda Dobb, and Continuing and Extended Education’s Education Abroad Office, among others. Residence Life sent a live-in resident advisor. “We also had the luxury of learning from the other learning communities,” Grilliot said.
Everything about it, from its curriculum and intentional focus on community to its appearance and setup, were carefully planned. Now the efforts are paying off more than expected, said Foell and Grilliot. The community has become a meeting place for numerous campus groups such as the Middle East Studies and World Student associations, the International Careers Group and others. Several faculty groups, such as Peace Studies, are holding meetings in the Global Village. “Everyone shares in the positive,” Grilliot said.
In addition, students who are not members of the community are often there meeting and studying with friends, and more students have expressed a desire to join the community. As Grisdale and Woodward each said, “It’s a welcoming place.”
The décor of the public rooms is light, hip and somewhat urban, intended to appeal to 18-22-year-olds, said interior designer Julie Harbal, residence life. “The goal was to give it an international flavor without being too literal or clichéd,” she explained. Simple brown panels on the walls of the sitting room are centered with African masks, stools made by a local artist are scattered throughout (“Stools are very important in many African cultures,” Harbal noted), and the airy, embroidered curtains are made of fabric by Dutch designer Tord Boontje. Foell and Grilliot contributed items from their extensive travels. “It’s a unique space, and I think it was successful. It was a joy working with the two directors,” Harbal added. “They have a genuine passion for serving the students.”
“The learning community was designed to be mutually beneficial to both the American and the international students,” Foell said.
Sometimes the benefits are very direct, as with two community members from Genoa, Ohio—Kaitlyn McDougle, a first-year student majoring in Asian studies, and Kyle Fegley, a freshman majoring in international studies with a minor in Asian studies. Both have Japanese roommates, which has boosted their language skills and cultural knowledge, they said. Conversely, Grisdale’s roommate, Masahiro Motegi, is also Japanese, and “I can already see an improvement in his English,” Grisdale said.
Grisdale plans to go into politics, and chose the Global Village because he felt he would need a good grasp of world issues. In the spontaneous study groups, “we’ll have questions, and somebody here will have an answer,” he said.