International initiatives thrive at the Castle

Zimbabwean, Tatenda Shumbo runs down the competition.
Chistopher Williams/Castleton Spartan

Even from the top row of Spartan Stadium, Tatenda Shumba’s flashy Mohawk and distinctive ball handling skills make him stand out.

Shumba’s contradicting small size and strength on the ball would perplex a physicist, his fortune on the pitch would surprise a mystic, and his laugh might get the attention of a wild chimpanzee.

Shumba, also known as “Ten-Ten,” is a freshman soccer player from Zimbabwe. He is one of 35 international students on the Castleton State College campus, and he’s happy to be here saying the atmosphere is a comfortable one.

“I like it here. The students and teachers are very helpful and can understand people’s problems,” he said.

But the one thing the campus can improve on: “More activities for students to interact and get to know each other,” Shumba said.

President Dave Wolk intends to bring international students like Shumba into the CSC community, enriching the campus experience for everyone.

“The vision from the beginning was to help diversify our campus. We’re a predominately white campus and in the future I’m hoping that we are able to appreciate the beauty of diversity,” Wolk said.

Wolk emphasizes the importance of creating a campus environment that will be welcoming and comfortable to a wide range of cultural backgrounds.

Ana Alexander, a professor in the foreign language department, couldn’t agree more.

“International students bring a completely different background to the campus, and they certainly will enrich it,” Alexander said. “They will show our USA students that traveling abroad and studying abroad is a reality and we can make this happen. We can have a nice exchange of cultures.”

Associate Academic dean Yasmine Ziesler said the school hopes to attract several international students from different parts of the world, but recognizes the importance of having several students from the same culture attend Castleton.

“When you meet just one person from a culture, everything you learn about that culture through that one person can be like tunnel vision. The benefit of having not just one person from Sweden but 10 people from Sweden is that you start to get more of a perspective, and I think that that’s really healthy,” she said.

Ziesler feels it is important for U.S. students to take the initiative in learning and understanding various cultures through courses including “… A roots class, Intro to Global Studies, Anthropology courses, Arabic courses, or even a Chinese course.” In doing so, students have the capacity to gain empathy for incoming international students, Ziesler said.

Ziesler added that the next step for students is to, “Not be afraid of tackling really uncomfortable subjects.”

“There are billions of people who live on this planet and we’re not all going to get along all the time; we have stereotypes about each other … It’s not until you start getting comfortable talking about it, when you start to say, ‘oh, well what was really underneath that?’” Ziesler said.

Jekabs Grinbergs, a sophomore from Latvia, a small country in Eastern Europe, explained that his experience is not measured by extra-curricular activities, or anything outside of his studies.

“It’s not material things that make my experience good or bad,” he said. “Every culture probably seeks what’s back home: family, cook, food, your room, your bed, your friends, your streets, your everything. If you spent most of your time back there [at home], and then you continuously pull yourself out of those roots to study abroad, for me it’s a mission. I’m very focused,” Grinbergs said.

That focus?

“A degree and knowledge that I can bring back and develop in Latvia. Being here, I get things I couldn’t get back home. Education-wise, the quality is much higher,” he said.

Anna Daniels, a junior from Falun, Sweden, came to Castleton in 2012 and she continues to embrace her Castleton College experience both in the classroom and on the ice.

“My commitment to the hockey team has made me a better student in the classroom and a better hockey player on the ice,” she said.

Daniels helped guide the team toward unprecedented success and was named to the NEHWA all-star team. As far as the classroom, Daniels was named to the ECAC East all-academic team.

As for the school’s efforts to diversify, Daniels is all for it.

“I believe all people should meet people from other cultures to get a better understanding for one another,” she said.

To build a more culturally diverse student body, the school has recently hired Debbie Singiser and Patrick Liu to “Work on all the things that we need to do to create a more welcoming place,” said Wolk, adding that their task also includes diversifying ethnicity.

Singiser started working for Castleton as a part-time consultant in October 2013 to help recruit and retain international students. Soon after, she was hired full-time to help implement part of Castleton’s plan to expand in a variety of ways.

“Castleton on the Move” is a 10-year plan (2013-2023) designed to increase the number of undergraduate students and expand the College campus. As part of the plan, CSC strives to bring the number of international students to 125 students, which would be 5 percent of overall enrollment, 2.4 percent higher than the national average of 3.7 percent according to a 2013 poll.

Last spring Singiser began implementing a plan that would support their goal of 125 students and maintain retention. Bringing in someone with experience in international recruitment was the first step, and in came Patrick Liu.

“If Castleton is serious about getting to this number and being successful at retaining, we need to get expertise here like Patrick, someone who has done international student recruitment at other schools,” Singiser said.

Liu, originally from China, came to the United States as an international student in 1992. He previously worked at the University of North Texas where he was an international student advisor. Prior to that, Liu was director of international students at Lakeland College in Wisconsin.

One way Liu plans to implement its cultural expansion is to start connecting with high schools in Asia.

“We’re trying to establish sister-school relationships with colleges in China and other countries. We’re also trying to connect a special strategic relationship between high schools overseas and Castleton State College,” he said.

Liu also expressed his interest in providing overseas students with a strong long-term study abroad program for undergraduate and graduate students.

“Were looking for visiting scholars or even international faculty as well,” said Liu.

As far as the retention part of the plan, Liu and Singiser are looking at ways to strengthen a variety of on-campus facets that would encourage international students to have a more gratifying stay. Some of those facets include counseling and general health services, food services, religious and spiritual outlets, visa compliance assistance, transportation services, on-campus employment and social support.

Castleton has already begun to see progress toward the goal. This fall, CSC admitted 16 new international students from all around the globe.

Traditionally, most of the international population, about 70 percent, has been Canadian students, largely due to the hockey program.

“We want to continue to encourage Canadian students to enroll, but we want to increase the diversity and reach out to a number of countries around the world,” said Singiser.

Shumba said he would be thrilled to see more fellow “brothers” from Africa on campus, but he is embracing his experience for all its worth.

“I am thrilled to be here and of course I would love to see more culture here, but right now the glass is half full and I feel blessed,” he said.

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