UIC friends make international students feel at home

Trade Winds group

Trade Winds participants spend a day having fun and getting to know each other while checking out the Field Museum Oct. 19.

Although he’s miles from his native China, Brett Chen feels at home in Chicago since he joined UIC’s Trade Winds program.

“Meeting new people really helped me feel comfortable living here,” said Chen, a grad student in computer science. “It really helped me gain some confidence and also learn the language really well.”

Trade Winds, a program run by the Office of International Services, pairs international students with domestic students to teach them about Chicago’s unique culture, and help them learn the language and feel more at home.

The program began three years ago, starting off small with 20 students and expanding to 60 this semester.

“It’s meant to be a learning experience,” said Ray Mitic, associate director of the Office of International Services.

“We want all students to be comfortable and to have fun.”

Students who want to apply for spring semester can fill out an application beginning Nov. 14 at http://bit.ly/1hzCToB

Find out more information about the program at the International Expo for International Education Week, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday in Thompson Room C, Student Center West.

Once students complete the application process and are paired with a partner, they get to know each other through icebreakers before the semester begins.

“I had a lot of fun meeting my partner,” said Irina Murg, a junior in English. “The most important part of going to these meetings and hanging out with everyone is to keep an open mind about it all.”

Murg, a U.S. native, said she learned a lot about Indian culture from her Trade Winds partner.

“It’s very interesting to learn about a new culture,” she said. “My partner and I texted a lot and had tons of fun at the events.”

Partners are required to meet together at least five times per semester but they can hang out as often as they want. The required meetings are fun activities sponsored by Trade Winds, such as ice skating at Millenium Park a trip to the Field Museum and visiting a pumpkin patch.

Students are asked to keep a journal about their experiences in the program.

“We have them write it up on Blackboard and it’s strictly confidential,” Mitic said.

“Trade Winds is all about learning experiences, so it’s nice for the students to write out their crosscultural experiences of what they taught to each other.

“It’s very enriching. What they write is meant to be fun and enlightening.”

Chen, who has been part of the program for three semesters, enjoys writing in his journal.

“It holds memories and pictures now that I can look back on,” he said.  

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