American students often don’t think about the cultural adjustments that international students need to make when they arrive at Knox. Anything from roommate relations to navigating the cafeteria can be more difficult when you aren’t familiar with the culture.
As the new international student coordinator at Knox, Rebecca Eckart’s job is to make this transition — and the next four years — smoother for these students. Eckart describes herself as “being a person [international students] can come to as sort of a point of reference,” whether they need help with visas, adjusting to life at Knox or anything else that may come up during their years here.
Before coming to Knox, Eckart taught English in Japan for five years and obtained her masters in higher education from the University of Pennsylvania last May. Of what led her to accept the position as international student coordinator at Knox, she said, “I think it was a number of things. I studied abroad in college and I lived in Japan, and I always found that the people in those places were always so supportive to me.”
She enjoyed teaching English in Japan and helped new English teachers adjust to living in a foreign country. This orientation involved the cultural aspects of living in Japan and fitting into “the culture of school and general things like how to buy groceries … simple things, but things that are really hard to find out if you haven’t lived there before.”
One of Eckart’s first tasks at Knox was to run a similar orientation for the 42 new international students who arrived on September 4 for International Student Orientation. During this time, Eckart talked with students about things ranging from banking and health insurance to the classroom style in the U.S. and how to adjust to living with a roommate from a different background. The orientation took students all over campus and Galesburg, even incorporating a scavenger hunt that used the Galesburg bus system.
Now that the term is in full swing, Eckart has been reaching out to returning international students, recently holding an open house for both first year and upperclassmen students. Eckart also wants to explore other areas of campus as well. “I want to learn more about I-Club events and some other cultural clubs too, and sort of see how I can help them extend themselves to campus,” she said.
She also wants to extend international student programming.
“I have a lot of interesting programming I want to do … I want to introduce a lot of things about the Midwest that aren’t necessarily visible at first,” such as organizing a trip to a corn maze, an activity which may be a holiday tradition for some American students, but is completely new for international ones.
She has already been thinking of programming for international students who will stay on campus over winter and summer breaks. “Throughout this year, I’ll sort of be thinking about what support structures there already are for international students and looking ahead to make this program for international students as robust and supportive as possible.”