Open Borders: Students experience cultures in learning community at Bemidji State

Some traveled around the world to study at Bemidji State University while others took a shorter trek to campus. But a common interest in the diverse cultures of the world has brought international students and American students to the same floor ...

Some traveled around the world to study at Bemidji State University while others took a shorter trek to campus.

But a common interest in the diverse cultures of the world has brought international students and American students to the same floor in Oak Hall, one of BSU's residence halls. There, they make up the Open Borders Learning Community.

"It's a really unique opportunity for students," said Amy Danielson, Open Borders coordinator and residence hall director for Oak and Pine halls.

Open Borders is designed to match up international students and American students who share an interest in getting to know people from other cultures as roommates.

"They get to learn about global issues," Danielson said.


The learning community provides students with social and educational opportunities ranging from cultural exchange dinners to international movie nights. Both the international students and American students involved share aspects of their cultures with each other, whether celebrating Chinese New Year or going sledding.

"It really gives students the opportunity to not only learn it in the classroom, but live it," Danielson said.

Students living on the co-ed floor this semester represent several countries, including Sweden, Japan, Moldova, Armenia, Malaysia and Canada.

On the floor, a resident assistant and cultural assistant team up to provide a vibrant community environment. This year, Danny Lawrence, a senior from Virginia, Minn., is the resident assistant, and senior Yee Mun Chan, an international student from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is the cultural assistant.

Students on the floor have embraced the experience, according to Open Borders staff.

"They've all enjoyed it," Lawrence said. "There seems to be a high comfort level."

He said students have found they have a lot more in common than they thought with students from other countries.

"I think it really helps to break stereotypes," he said.


"It's not just what we watch on television," Chan added.

Open Borders residents learn about the people, culture and education in the countries of their neighbors, she said.

"You learn to respect who they are and where they're from and their cultures," Chan said.

Now in its third year

Open Borders started in fall 2004 in Linden Hall and moved to Oak Hall last fall as Linden Hall undergoes renovation. In its first year, students on the floor represented 19 countries.

Steve Berard, who is now the academic coordinator for Upward Bound at BSU, developed the idea for Open Borders when he was the residence hall director for Linden and Birch halls.

Berard said he used to teach English at a university in Japan, and many of its students who spent time studying abroad in the United States returned to Japan without really connecting with American students.

When he returned to the United States and became a residence hall director at BSU, Berard said he created Open Borders to bring international students together with American students who have an enthusiasm for other cultures.


Sharing with others

Senior Patrick Koh from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said he chose to live on the Open Borders floor to meet people from around the world and share each other's cultures.

"I read the brochure before I came here," said Koh, who arrived in Bemidji in January. "It sounded pretty interesting."

In the past few weeks, he said he has become good friends with one of his neighbors who is a student from Sweden.

"I hang out with him almost every single day," said Koh, noting that he enjoys learning about the Swedish culture.

Meanwhile, he said he has also become friends with a student on the floor from Canada.

"He speaks fluent French," Koh said.

The Open Borders brochure also attracted another new student from Kuala Lumpur, senior Pei Wun Ang, to the floor.


"I think it's quite interesting to stay with students from other cultures and share the culture," Ang said.

She said the Open Borders floor is welcoming. And, she said she likes that the floor has both a residential assistant and cultural assistant to help international students adapt to their new surroundings.

Anna Raybern, a junior from Motley, Minn., said she enjoys the social activities that Open Borders offers, including the Chinese New Year celebration it co-sponsored last month with BSU's International Student Organization. At the dinner, she said, Chan told her about the different types of food that was served.

"It was great," Raybern said.

She noted that she is always learning new things from her international neighbors.

"That's what I like about being in the Open Borders program," Raybern said. "I learn something everyday."

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