These days, Collegiates have a lot on their plates: classes, studying, jobs, volunteering, team sports, clubs, hanging out with friends… with all of this, it’s hard to even squeeze in an hour at the gym and still get a healthy amount of sleep. So, when the Oval is brimming with tables and students representing all the different clubs and organizations on campus, it’s hard to decide which group to sign up for and stick with and what to pass up. After all, we only have so much time to do so many of the cool things UM and Missoula have to offer.
As a freshman I decided that being in a new city with new friends, classes, and a new job, I didn’t want any more commitments than I already had. I had the flexibility to try all of the new things I was interested in and skip what didn’t appeal to me, and by the end of the year I felt that I had a solid routine down. I knew how long it took me to do my homework, how much time went into my job, and how much free time I liked to have on the weekends. With this in mind, I decided to look into a student group called Global Partners, which I had heard of around campus. Run through the Foreign Student and Scholar Services (FSSS) department on campus, Global Partners gives UM students the opportunity to partner up with international and exchange students to provide support and a friendly face in a new country. You are paired according to mutual interests, and before you meet your partner you take an orientation to learn how to best support foreign students when they’re stressed about school, homesick, experiencing culture shock, or just feeling scared about being in a new country and taking classes in a second language.
After taking this orientation, I am very aware of how American culture and body language differs from those of other countries. At the orientation it was stressed that Americans are loud and determined; after growing up with the American Dream, it’s part of our national programming that if you have the guts, determination and some luck you can get pretty much anything you try for. We were also told that Americans laugh a lot, especially when we are nervous, which can be mistaken as an insult rather than laughter to diffuse anxiety.
After this brief training, the UM Global Partners collect at the International House to meet the international partners. After this first meeting Global Partners host a few events throughout the semester, but after the first meeting you and your partner are left to get to know each other on your own time.
The spring of my sophomore year I met my first Global Partner, who was a Chinese exchange student studying English Literature at UM for the semester. I was anxious to meet her and see what she’d be like, and to see what she’d have to say about Chinese culture, American and Montana culture, and what she thought of all the damn snow. Turns out, we connected on more things than one might imagine if they sat down an American and a Chinese student to have a conversation. We both love Harry Potter, study literature and can’t stand reading T.S. Eliot, don’t really get the finer points of writing good poetry, and love Missoula. We went downtown to explore the shops and had the same taste in earrings, pet a massive dog on the sidewalk outside of Butterfly Herbs, and grabbed lunch between classes at Food For Thought. Even though she only stayed for one semester, being her Global Partner was an awesome experience. She was eager to learn about me and my home, my country, and my culture. I was baffled by the pronunciation of Chinese words, and tried my best to fathom an Internet without Facebook. I eagerly signed up for another round of Global Partners for this semester.
Global Partners is a wonderful program for anyone looking to get involved on campus; it is flexible with your schedule and not a huge time commitment, you meet other UM students and new international students, get to learn about a new country and a new language, and make connections with people from a country on the other side of the world. Most of all, it teaches you things about your own country you may never have considered before. How many programs can say that?