Professor David Boromisza-Habashi knows first-hand how difficult it can be for international students to integrate into a foreign campus. Raised in Hungary, he came to the United States as a young graduate student to study the relationship between communication and culture.
“Just knowing the English language was not enough to succeed socially and academically,” he explains. “The key was learning local ways of using the language. Through trial and error, I had to figure out how to join a classroom discussion without rudely interrupting anyone, how to present myself as a friendly and professional person to professors and administrators and how to ask for cultural information without sounding ignorant or condescending.”
When Boromisza-Habashi—now an assistant professor of communication at CMCI—was looking for a project to give his own students real-world experience, he returned to the communication barriers faced by international students.
His class interviewed international students to understand the communication challenges they face on campus. “They are facing such similar issues as us,” explains Lauren Page, a communication student, “but then they have the added struggles of language barriers.”
The class found that many international students struggle with interactions that require complex social knowledge, such as working on group projects and interacting with roommates. “Many international students had questions for us,” says communication student Brian Barrow. “What we do for fun, or how do we date American men or women?”
After the interviews the communication class offered advice to CU-Boulder’s International Student Programs, including the idea of pairing international students with domestic “buddies” to help them learn the nuances of campus social life.
“I appreciated the feedback,” says Adam Beaver, assistant director of International Student Programs, “because it helps me make the case for new programs to promote integration on campus.”
Working with international students was the final project in a senior seminar on the functions of communication, but just talking with each other may have been the most rewarding part of the project for both international and domestic students. “This gave me a different perspective, from someone else’s point of view,” says Page, a communication and business student. “You got to learn about different communication styles that you can’t learn in a communication book.”
And the international students, Boromisza-Habashi says, “were just generally grateful for domestic students taking an interest in their perspective.”