Title: AU attracting students worldwide
Mom always said, "Eat your vegetables." But 21-year-old Laura Litunya from Nairobi, Kenya, isn't buying it. "You just don't eat raw vegetables at home," the Anderson University student said. Avik Bhattacharya, a 21-year-old student from Calcutta, India, couldn't agree more. "The discovery of salad and baked potatoes -- that's serious culture shock," he said playfully. "To see people munching on raw lettuce gives me the creeps." Litunya and Bhattacharya are just two of the 41 students in AU's International Program, 30 of which are students without American roots.
Twenty-two countries are represented in the program, from Lebanon to Saipan, with Kenya being the most common. Scott Martin, director of International Services, said the program has recently been rapidly growing. Just two years ago, there were half the international students there are today.
"We got almost 2,000 inquiries last year. Five years earlier, maybe we got 20," he said, attributing the increase to word-of-mouth and improved information tools, like the Internet.
Besides drawing a few stares in public places, Martin said international students are usually well received in Anderson.
"Although the town might not be so metropolitan about understanding different cultures, it's not too uptight about their presence," he said, adding that cultural acceptance can often be a hindrance for international students in other communities.
Both Bhattacharya and Litunya are going on their second year in Anderson. The students met Tuesday afternoon in AU's international office to share their thoughts on cultural differences and to talk about how they're adjusting to life in the heartland of America.
AN AFRICAN VIEWPOINT
Before this summer, Litunya was eager to get home. But after spending a summer back in Nairobi, she realized how much she had nestled into her American life.
"I'm not homesick anymore. I'm actually glad to be back here," she said.
Not that adapting has always been easy. At first, the gawking made her uncomfortable. The silence was even more disturbing. "Everyone minds their own business. At home, there is always somebody coming around to your place," she said.
Furthermore, it took her awhile to get used to the freedom afforded to young people.
For instance, last Christmas she traveled with a local family to California for vacation. "The dad had to plead and plead for his son to do the dishes," she said. "Back home, it shouldn't even be said. It should be done. You know it's your duty."
The Kenyan classroom is equally strict. She said only a small percentage of people even get into high school. "Here you can get a C and still get in a university," she said.
Overall, Litunya said there is more freedom and permissiveness in America. Although some things are uncomfortable, she's learning to adapt.
As for vegetables, no way, she said. "But I am beginning to break down," she said. "I'm beginning to eat cheese."
AN INDIAN PERSPECTIVE
Bhattacharya never held a job until he came to Anderson. Now he is holding down two -- one at the library and one at the computer lab.
"I didn't have time to work at home," the computer science and economics student said. "I was always studying."
Bhattacharya said the American education system is less challenging than in India, where the focus is more on quality than quantity. Still, America trumps in other arenas. For instance, Bhattacharya said the library is excellent. Plus, the city planning is better.
"The roads are a lot cleaner, too," he said. "I think there's a greater civic sense here."
Still, the food is flavorless, the corner store nearly non-existent, and the public transportation system is horrible.
As for the people, he said they're usually friendly, although not particularly curious about his customs. Furthermore, they are not as ignorant as he expected. "I've actually been quite surprised about the amount of people who have had a fairly decent idea about Indian culture," he said.
Of course, not everyone is of global mind. Furthermore, people often think he cannot speak English, even though he is actually trilingual. "People tend to judge me based on my accent," he said.
The ignorance goes both ways, though.
Bhattacharya said in India, people often judge America by what they see on TV -- glamour, wealth, beauty. "But it's not like that. The movies project it in an inaccurate light," he said.
Still, he's not that disappointed. Coming from a mega-city of 16 million, Anderson may be a little sleepy, but the seclusion and slower pace help him focus on his academics.
"This is just a quiet, nice small town," he said. "It's just a wonderful place to be."
----Writer Jenna McNight is a reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin.