International students step on to Northwestern State’s campus each semester, getting a taste of American higher education and a spoonful of Louisiana food and culture.
But for two students, a heaping helping of Southern hospitality left the largest impression during the fall semester.
Renate Andriani, an Indonesian native who traveled to Louisiana after studying in France, said she’s relished the opportunity to practice English with pleasant American speakers.
“I studied in English at the University of Angers, but outside of the classroom, English isn’t used,” said Andriani, who hails from the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. “When I pass someone in the street, they always say ‘Hi’ or smile at me here.
“That’s not what I expected. In France, (a greeter) will welcome you into the store, but that’s about it. Indonesia isn’t like this either.”
Andriani studied hospitality and tourism management mixed with business and music in her lone semester in Natchitoches. She hopes to work in a theme park like Universal Studios or a similar park in France.
Spanish native Rafael Caulin will start his second semester at NSU this spring, hoping to see some alligators while canoeing in local waterways.
Caulin, who is working on the U.S. version of a business administration degree after earning a business degree from the University of Alicante, said he was surprised by residents’ politeness.
“There are a lot of nice people here, and I’m having a great time,” said Caulin, a 24-year-old who has also lived in the United Kingdom and Poland. “It’s more important here to be polite, and where I’m from, you can offend another person more often.
“The kindness of people here surprised me because my friends warned me about rednecks in Louisiana and even racism that can occur here. But I haven’t seen any of that. The people are warm, and I’m always receiving invitations to dinner or to parties.”
Caulin aims to work in the U.S. upon graduation, saying friends working in Illinois, West Virginia and elsewhere make higher salaries than back in Spain.
“This country has more opportunities than my own country,” Caulin said. “Promotions are valuable in this country, and Spanish speakers also have an advantage. I hope to learn a lot by working here.”
International students are recruited through study-abroad agreements such as the ones from the University of Angers (France) and University of Alicante (Spain). Northwestern State regularly admits students through partnerships from areas such as Colombia, Spain, France and China among other locales.
Dr. Telba Espinoza-Contreras, director of NSU’s International Student Resource Center, helps international students experience into NSU and Louisiana culture through specific programs.
“We offer orientations and other programs in which all students and faculty are invited,” Espinoza-Contreras said. “We place them in a Freshman Connection so they can meet and get to know local students.
“We have a Student Friendship Program in which American students become mentors for the international students. We also have host families that take students around to local activities like seeing the Christmas lights or invite them over for Thanksgiving dinner.”
Both Andriani and Caulin are accustomed to densely populated cities with accessible public transportation.
Rural Natchitoches is a bit of a culture shock with cars as the primary mode of transportation.
“It’s hard for me to get Wal Mart or go places besides the University,” Andriani said. “But it’s good for students to experience rural America because you get to know people more.
“In big cities, you don’t get to interact with people the same. University professors accepted us and looked at us just like other students.”
Andriani gives up a thumbs up to meat pies, saying she enjoys Louisiana food more in general because it reminds her of Indonesian cuisine.
Caulin enjoys gumbo and alligator as well, noting that he’s gained a few extra pounds with American food’s higher sugar content.
He partakes in outdoor activities such as running and canoeing to work off the added sugar and fat.
Practicing English with American speakers is another benefit.
“It’s very important to go to class and practice English by listening to professors or talking to students,” Espinoza-Contreras said. “The best way to practice is to get immersed and engage with local students.”
For more information, visit NSU’s international student web page at nsula.edu/international.