Bridging the Integration Gap: Bringing American and international students together

OSU students

With international student enrolment growth at seven times the US average,  Oregon State University and INTO OSU know a thing or two about helping international students fully integrate.

Helping international students to succeed while encouraging domestic students to take advantage of the opportunities presented by having such a diverse range of nationalities on campus is one of the great challenges in international education. Lindy Osborne, Marketing and Communications Co-ordinator at INTO OSU  explains the approach taken in Corvallis.

As international students pack their bags and prepare to embark on an education experience abroad, visions of the journey that lies ahead may be filled with romanticised, idealistic images.

Playing American football with their host family brothers, joining their domestic student friends for study groups, being invited to celebrate holiday traditions in a local home…but as the reality of culture shock sets in, how can students find the time, the courage and the motivation to integrate with the native culture?

Integration at INTO OSU

At Oregon State University, integration successes are plentiful. In the newly-built International Living-Learning Center, home to the INTO OSU program, domestic and American students alike can be observed meeting in groups, walking together to and from class, sitting side-by-side in classrooms.

International students live with American roommates – sharing rooms as well as their different cultural perspectives. Walk through the building and you’ll find people from around the world living and learning together.

Among the many activities and programs at INTO OSU designed to foster integration are the Conversant Program, the international and American roommate matching, and classes that combine American students with international students for a cross-cultural experience.

conversant programThe Conversant Program explained

The Conversant Program offers international students the chance to be paired with an American partner to meet for conversation one hour per week. The program boasts almost 200 American student volunteers—a large number by campus volunteer standards, but still not quite enough to accommodate all international students on a one-on-one basis. The program is competitive, with the first international students to sign up (and those with lower-level English skills) taking higher priority to receive a partner.

The lasting friendships made are a testament to the program’s success. Sarah Jou-hsuan Chen of Taiwan met her current roommate through the Conversant Program during her first year as an INTO OSU Pathway student.

“I lived on campus for one year,” explains Chen. “Then, I told my conversant partner that I was going to move out of the residence hall and she said, ‘Oh! Would you like to live with us?’ It was perfect timing!”

The right match for students

International students living in the International Living-Learning Center also benefit from being matched with American roommates from the very beginning of their studies at OSU. American student David Shumway explains the dynamics of living with an international roommate:

“I’ve always found people from other cultures to be the most amicable roommates I’ve ever had. Each roommate wants to understand the other one better, so people compromise a lot. With an international roommate there is more tolerance for differences.”
Shumway’s Vietnamese roommate, Then Le Xan, echoes those sentiments: “I can listen to his music, I can speak to him in English and I can improve my speaking skills. Those are the advantages of having an American roommate.”

International students in class

INTO OSU students also take classes alongside their American counterparts, often being paired with domestic students for exercises, discovering first-hand, the challenges and rewards of communicating in an authentic cross cultural context.
“I definitely learned some things about different cultures, but actually a lot about American culture like how other cultures view Americans,” domestic student Kelly Baker said of the course. “It will help me build connections with other students and be open minded about things.”

Still, it is up to the students to push themselves out of their own comfort zones to take advantage of these opportunities to integrate. When asked what advice he would give to other students, Yuttapol Rattanapong of Thailand responded emphatically, “If students can have their own connections with American housemates, that would be better [for their experience],” but then sheepishly adds, “I live with other Thai friends.”

Sometimes knowing the path and walking the path are two different things, but giving students the tools they need to make those steps easier can help set them on the right direction towards success.


Lindy Osborne

Author: Lindy Osborne

Lindy is the Marketing and Communications Co-ordinator at INTO Oregon State University.

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