Monday, May 15, 2006

let's start an International Neighbors Group in youngstown

A few weeks ago, I became a member of a little organization in town named the International Neighbors Group. It’s mainly composed of locals who are interested in meeting newcomers to town from other cultures. Some of the members meet every week for coffee and conversation; another bunch meets every week for crafts and cultural exchange. I’ve mainly stuck to monthly bigger events like road trips, and Dutch classes in volunteer’s homes. An individual is pretty much free to attend whatever one wants.

I’ve been especially happy with my Dutch classes recently, organized by a professor’s wife in the middle of the old town. Her house has stunning views of the four oldest churches and the main canal through town. Each week, five other students and myself sit around the table in her home as she prepares snacks and we talk in Dutch. Here is a picture of a recent snack, beschuit mit aardbei:

It’s basically a toasted piece of bread spread with butter, with sliced strawberries and grain sugar sprinkled on top. It’s a simple gesture to have snacks and tea in the afternoon, but one that has made a big impact to me, a virtual stranger in a new country. I think we should start this type of organization in Youngstown.

Who’s with me?

We tend to think of Youngstown State as a place attracting people only from the region, but that’s just not true. Many students from a variety of countries get their degrees here. This week when YSU has their spring commencement, they will present an honorary degree to the Undersecretary of Energy from Kuwait. His son will be graduating with a degree in chemical engineering.

It would be great to have an organization to welcome and assist new international students and immigrants in our community. Here are a few positive benefits this type of organization may provide:

- It’s helpful for arrivals from other countries to become oriented to our city and region. Small things such showing the location of ethnic markets, demonstrating how to use public transportation, and assisting newcomers with the paperwork that often comes with relocation may ease their transition to Youngstown.

- Organizing monthly events around the community, as well as around Northeastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, may present newcomers with a sense of the cultural things we Youngstowners find important, plus provide economic support for local attractions. Students especially may enjoy this if they don’t own a car.

- Teaching English to newcomers, their spouses, and their children may supplement their already existing language skills.

- If strong connections are made with students, they may be more interested in becoming future employees or entrepreneurs in the region, adding to the knowledge-based economy and diversity.

- If engaged students instead decide to return home, they might have a greater understanding of our nation’s and region’s traditions and values, making them good ambassadors to others never to visit this country.

- Treating our international friends well now may encourage future investment in local businesses, future support of local tourism, and future lifelong friendships.

1 comment:

Liz said...

YSU has (or used to have) some sort of organization for people/families who want to befriend international students. But extending this idea to other (non-students) foreigners new to the Youngstown area is a good idea.