Apr 132008
Authors: By Viviane EphraimsonAbt

One way to develop intercultural understanding and skills is to make friends with someone who is different from you.

Does this seem like a simple idea? Or does it seem exciting? Perhaps it seems daunting.

Where can you make intercultural friendships at CSU? Living in Apartment Life or attending programs in Aggie Village, International House, Lory Apartments or University Village is one way to do this.

Students, staff and faculty are all eligible to live in, and programs are often open to the CSU and Fort Collins community. Apartment Life holds over 900 programs a year to support intercultural learning and relationships.

Apartment Life is an intergenerational and multicultural community with approximately 3,000 residents. Fifty percent of the residents are international, from over 80 countries, and the rest are from all over the U.S. In the last census, Apartment Life comprised the most diverse neighborhoods in Fort Collins.

From research, Apartment Life knows that residents are having transformative intercultural experiences. There are many stories of the significant intercultural learning that residents experience in their relationships with their neighbors. Apartment Life residents develop and deepen interculturally through these connections and relationships. This changes not only their own lives but also the lives of their family and friends.

Social interaction theory informs us that the telling of stories is an important part of making meaning of experiences. The recording of stories is an additional way for this learning to continue.

Several years ago, an Apartment Life staff member wanted to help residents record the stories of their intercultural connections. Jenn Christ, now the Program Coordinator of the Office of International Programs at CSU, developed the One Community Photos Essay project.

In this project, over 100 Apartment Life groups or households were nominated and 12 of these were selected to reflect the diverse demographics of the community. These 12 were photographed, interviewed and asked to write a poem. This material was compiled into displays. Each display had photos, an essay and a poem.

The goals of the One Community project were to develop an exhibit that enabled residents to share their stories and to celebrate their intercultural relationships. Another goal was to inspire viewers of the exhibit to engage in intercultural experiences.

Each time someone views a display they can learn and be inspired by the stories and intercultural learning continues indefinitely! The following is a synopsis of one of the displays:

The Intercultural Connection Community is a living-learning program for single students aged 23 and younger. Located in the mostly family housing community of University Village, the ICC provides an international and multigenerational experience mostly for undergraduates. The ICC began with 40 students and has grown to 250 residents.

Its first coordinator, Sunshine Workman pointed out that ICC residents have amazing experiences.

“The stories we share put a face to a world that some of us have never even imagined before meeting each other,” Workman said.

As ICC resident Andy Lopez noted, these experiences build skill and understanding that is essential to humanity’s survival.

“Diversity within a community brings understanding and tolerance for our fellow humans. We must understand one another if we ever hope to survive,” he said.

ICC residents even wrote a poem that demonstrates the creative and hopeful sense of aliveness that can emerge from intercultural friendships.

And the photos in this exhibit are even more inspiring.

You know the old adage — “a picture speaks a thousand words.” If you want to see more of the One Community Photo Essay, visit Apartment Life at the Palmer Center at 1005 West Laurel Street or International House at 1500 West Elizabeth.

Or better yet, if want to expand your own intercultural experience, consider living in Apartment Life or attending one of its programs. You might make a new friend from a part of this planet that you have never visited before. You too can to change your own world, one relationship at a time right here at CSU.

Viviane Ephraimson-Abt is the assistant director of Apartment Life at CSU. The Office of International Programs’ column appears biweekly Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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