Book Helps International Students Acclimate at MSU

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When classes start in East Lansing, more than 7,000 international students from 131 countries come to town -- a number that has grown steadily over the last decade.

Experience has taught MSU how to bring out the welcome wagon. But now the journalism school is pitching in.

Professor Joe Grimm, with the help of his students has now published six guides, including "100 Questions and Answers About Americans."

"We wanted to answer some of the most basic questions international students have," said Merinda Valley, an MSU senior who contributed to the book. "What we found is there are a lot of little things in our culture that we take for granted or are even aware of because it is so familiar to us."

The book features chapters on food, culture and social interaction. It also features a glossary of slang terms, defining words like "bro," "bestie" and "train wreck."

"What we want these books to do is give a foundation and hopefully get the small things out of the way," Valley said. "Then they can have the conversations and learn more things about cultures."

Peter Briggs, director of MSU's Office of International Students and Scholars says it's a good foundation for foreign students who haven't had much experience in the States.

"You really can't do this learning through books but this certainly gives you kind of a guide, an intuition and an awareness," said Briggs, who also wrote the book's foreword. "But I think every day on the street is where they're going to feel American culture."

Briggs said he liked the way the book hit on general American tendencies but avoided stereotypes.

"I think it gives some broad brushstrokes of be careful how you judge Americans," he said.

The International Office has also been working with MSU and East Lansing Police, so they are better prepared to deal with international students and so less is lost in translation.

"The police have a tough job," said Briggs. "They're enforcing the law, they're teaching people about the law and other kinds of things. How can we be globally friendly when they're trying to do an enforcement job?"

The answer has been training sessions with officers, explaining that talking slowly can make a big difference. International students may avoid eye contact out of respect, but it could instead arouse suspicion, Briggs said.

"In terms of the training, it's good for us because its an opportunity to find out which things work best and working with international students," said MSU Police Sgt. Florene McGlothian-Taylor. "It's very beneficial for us and I think it's helpful for them to find out what our rules are."

For the past couple years, MSUPD has used a video series called "It's the Law" to explain -- in English and Mandarin -- the proper way to observe American traffic laws and stay safe.

"It helps open up the lines of communication to show we're not just hear for enforcement, but we're here to help them understand and make sure they have a good experience at Michigan State University," said McGlothian-Taylor.

The City of East Lansing has also taken steps to welcome international students. Tuesday night, the city council passed a resolution to make itself a "welcoming city." Only four other cities in Michigan have that distinction.

Mayor Nathan Triplett says his city must keep up with the changing faces and that diversity makes East Lansing stronger.

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