Claire Gaxiola - Student Reflections

CLAIRE GAXIOLA: My name is Claire Gaxiola and I am a senior, IR and global Studies major. I had the privilege of interning with the Oral History department this semester. This project focused on international student life at Samford. I conducted a series of 4 interviews with 4 different international students with diverse backgrounds, both in relation to what part of the world they came from, and what their individual beliefs about life are. The first interview conducted was with Omar Yañez, from Peru. As an ELLI student working to pursue his higher education degree at the Beeson Divinity School, he had unique perspectives about life, simply because he has already lived one life before coming to Samford, 1:00being an undergraduate student in Peru, owning his own business, planting churches, etc. By virtually traveling to Peru through our interview, I learned from Omar Yanez that Peru has a rich, but also tragic modern history with its bouts of terrorism that affected many families during the 1970s and 80s. Hearing his personal story of how he came to the United States and how he has learned English reminded me just how open we need to be to let opportunities arise and not fret if life does not always work according to our plans. Another opportunity is always around the corner.

The second interview conducted was with Laura Hamwi, from Syria. The depth and honesty with which she spoke about her country and her personal life were a powerful reminder to always stay true to your heritage and identity, even if it 2:00comes with presuppositions, sadnesses and setbacks. She taught me that these are merely tools in our belt for life to look up to God and succeed. As the news circulates only negative reports of Syria, the depiction she gave, both physically and culturally, of her country was like a breath of fresh air. I learned that life in Syria and Lebanon can be completely normal, and that people every political, religious or other situation have so many hopes and dreams too. We merely have to commit to stay open-minded about learning.

The third interview conducted was with Suifang, or Joey, Zhou from China. Having the opportunity to interview Joey was also a great privilege. As both China and the United States are so large and so diverse, it was mentally stimulating to be able to hear our American culture interpreted through his eyes. While 3:00interviewing Joey, I learned that sometimes it’s just ok to sit back and let things be as they are. Speaking about the need to include international students more into student activity life on campus, he taught me that many times in our eagerness to help and accommodate, we can be over eager. Sometimes help is not always wanted or needed. Sometimes, international students simply just want to fit in, and not feel any more special than the next student. His perspectives made me analyze the way I view “helping others”, and the assumptions that often come along with that.

The final interview conducted was with Molly Burke, from England. As I learned, there is a difference between England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom.  As Samford has a program for students to study abroad at the Daniel House in London, I was interested to see what a British student thinks of the same experience here at Samford. I learned from Molly that in our ever increasing 4:00globalized world, we face cultural challenges that can make us feel threatened. She mentioned that she recognizes she is from a small, culturally homogenous town outside of Oxford and that her perspective as a young person is quite different than the older adults in her village. Her perspective on the changing face of Britain taught me that as society changes, and as we must continually reflect on what these changes mean for our lives personally, we will either adapt or contract.

I learned so much from this internship! It was such a unique and rare privilege to get to spend so much time with these students and hear their lives and stories. Each student was asked to speak about the quality of their stay at Samford, the challenges and successes they face as international students, and anything that they would see changed to improve international student life at 5:00Samford. I was delighted to hear from each that there are some ways that as a university, we can improve to help better welcome our international guests. The one way that was most often repeated, was transportation. Another was an introduction into Samford life for graduate students, specifically. It is my sincere hope that these interviews can be used for research or simply educational purposes for all at Samford, faculty, students, staff alike. If we all take the time to simply step outside of our comfort zones and engage an international student in conversation, we will have the unique privilege of learning how people outside of our way of thinking view, shape, and impact the world. We all live in the same planet and need to work towards understanding and learning from one another in order to truly engage our wonderful university with the rest of the world.

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