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The tough transition: International students help each other adjust to ASU

ASU's international students bond over life in a new culture
The big move: ASU's international students talk about relocating to the desert
October 23, 2015

Editor's note: This feature is part of a series profiling different slices of ASU's diverse population. Find more stories here.

Like most newcomers to college, international students can struggle with college rites of passage like making friends or finding the balance between doing classwork and having fun.

But their homesickness can be heightened because their families are thousands of miles away and the food is strange and the language is new.

There are about 9,800 international students at Arizona State University, and they’ve taken a variety of paths to ASU.

Maria Jose Quezada of Mexico City methodically considered several universities before choosing ASU, which she liked for its hands-on approach for engineering majors and because it’s a quick four-hour plane trip home.

Yifan “Leo” Liupictured above, photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now came from China and spent a year with a host family in New Jersey before deciding to attend ASU as a finance major.

And while these students come from all over the world they face similar issues once they get here — from language barriers to the acclimation of a new culture.

Transitioning, and trying to fit in

Quezada said she didn’t feel too homesick when she first arrived, but did get a little surprised.

“Spanish is my first language but I was in a bilingual school my whole life, and I grew up learning both Spanish and English,” she said.

“When I came here, people said, ‘Your accent is so cute!’ At the beginning, it was a little hard to accept the fact that my English wasn’t perfect.

“Sometimes people have the stereotype that you’re not smart enough because you don’t express what you want to say and you don’t have the sophisticated language,” Quezada said.

Liu spent a year with a host family in New Jersey before coming to Tempe, but he still joined in the weekly conversation groups that help international students become more comfortable speaking English.

“We would talk about everything — culture, school life, local restaurants,” he said.

Adjusting to American culture is another hurdle.

“Everyone here wears shorts and if you wear shorts back home every one looks at you like ‘why are you wearing shorts?’ ” said Quezada.

Liu was puzzled by football.

“I did a lot of research from friends and Wikipedia,” said Liu, who’s now a senior. He also attended the “Football 101” explainer event sponsored by the Coalition of International Students.

“After the first game I didn’t want to miss one. It’s impressive. Everyone wears the same color shirt.”

Woman standing in food court

Maria Jose Quezada chose to come to ASU from Mexico City because she liked how the university has a hands-on approach for engineering majors and because it is a quick four-hour plane trip home.

Making connections

Sometimes, making friends with Americans isn’t easy.

“You think, ‘they don’t like me,’ said Quezada. “But it’s just a different culture. Americans are a little bit colder.”

Xin Zhou is the coordinator for international student engagement at ASU, and she also advises the Coalition of International Students.

“Our priority is to integrate the students into university life,” she said.

The coalition is made up of individual student groups including the Indian Students Association and the African Students Association. During the past year or so, the individual groups have become more collaborative with planning events together, Zhou said.

Of the 9,800 international undergraduate and graduate students, more than a third are from China with about 23 percent from India.

The coalition holds social activities throughout the year, including a cricket tournament and a trip to the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort in Flagstaff, as well as cultural events like a Lunar New Year celebration and practical events such as a career conference.

“A lot of international students have challenges finding internships or jobs in the U.S.,” Zhou said. “We have recruiters and immigration attorneys who can help,” Zhou said.

And the group helps the students connect to others like them.

“Usually international students will say that it’s easier to make friends with other international students,” Zhou said. “They tend to bond with each other.”

Quezada, a junior bioengineering major, is a student at Barrett, the Honors College, where she’s found a supportive community.

For one of her Barrett classes, she created a video project in which she interviewed several international students. Her video captured the disorientation they can feel and also the confidence they’ve developed in navigating a new world.

“That helped me realize why I’m here and all of the challenges international students face,” she said.

“And that we all go through the same stuff — food, clothing, the weather.”

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Native women find path to success with Project DreamCatcher

Project DreamCatcher helps native women find a path to entrepreneurship.
October 23, 2015

Entrepreneurial boot camp teaches skills for start-ups

A group of Native American women gathered this week to find a path to their dreams.

The women were selected to be part of the first Project DreamCatcher, a new program at the Thunderbird School of Global Management that is designed to launch them as entrepreneurs. They spent the week at Thunderbird’s campus in Glendale learning about business planning, accounting and marketing while making site visits and connecting with experienced mentors who can help guide them to success.

“The ripple effect of empowering women is great,” said Steven Stralser, an emeritus professor of entrepreneurship at Thunderbird, who taught the women. Thunderbird is part of Arizona State University.

“We’re helping them navigate the uncertainties of starting a business in a place where entrepreneurship is not well represented so far.”

Project DreamCatcher was fully funded by the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation and was sponsored by Thunderbird for GoodThunderbird for Good teaches non-traditional students business and management skills to fight poverty and improve living conditions in their communities. Project DreamCatcher was the first Thunderbird for Good program that trained U.S. citizens..

The 17 women are members of four tribes in Arizona — Hualapai, San Carlos Apache, Tohono O'odham and White Mountain Apache. Some of the women have been running businesses for years and others are just starting.

April Tinhorn, a 1996 graduate of ASU and a member of the Hualapai tribe near the Grand Canyon, has owned Tinhorn Consulting for five years.

A savvy businesswoman, the Project DreamCatcher organizers called her about attending the conference and she turned the conversation around.

“Me being me, I took some initiative and I got to interview them and I actually got a marketing contract for Project DreamCatcher,” she said.

Tinhorn was a member of the board of directors for her tribe’s Grand Canyon Resort Corp., which built the Grand Canyon Skywalk attraction.

That process was a revelation for her.

“I got to see our business go from mom and pop to Walmart in a matter of months.

“But I noticed that all of our professional services — lawyers and marketing firms — were not native firms. I knew there are professionals who have experience and qualifications and understand Indian communities and I wanted to be a part of that.”

So she launched her consulting firm, which provides “positive storytelling.” She was able to promote good news when she operated her tribe’s website for a few years.

Woman in a flowery dress

During the process of helping launch her tribe

But although she’s good at getting clients, Tinhorn knew she needed the financial skills that she could learn at the Project DreamCatcher boot camp.

“What I like about this session is the quality of the instructors. They’ve been able to explain these complex concepts in a real way that we can follow. We’re actually putting in numbers from our own businesses in the examples,” Tinhorn said.

Marketing is a concept that’s challenging for some Native American business owners.

Wynona Larson owns and operates a construction company with her husband, and so far they’ve done only limited promotion.

“With our culture, we’re taught to be humble, and it’s not a good thing to go out and talk about yourself. It’s seen as bragging,” she said. She’s hoping to put together a presentation about her business for her community.

A member of the Tohono O’odham tribe in southern Arizona, Larson said she and her husband hired consultants to help them launch Big Boy Southwest Construction about four years ago.

“But we wanted to take ownership and do these things on our own,” she said.

Larson doesn’t know many native businesswomen and had never heard of a program like Project DreamCatcher before she applied.

“I’m a Marine Corps veteran and I’m not even certified as a veteran-owned business,” she said. “Some of these things I don’t know where the resources are or I haven’t had time.”

One of the most important parts of Project DreamCatcher is the mentorship. Each participant is assigned a mentor and the pairs spent an afternoon going over “elevator pitches” and “action items.”

Stralser said the intent is for the women to not only stay in touch with each other as a sort of entrepreneurial support group, but also with their mentors.

“I have concerns about people outside of our culture but he heard what I said, and I know he’s going to be great,” Larson said of her mentor, John KellenKellen also mentors start-up ventures through Seed Spot and is a graduate of the Thunderbird School of Global Management., president of Sonora International Realty Corp.

Laura LibmanLibman also is a faculty associate at the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation and is a graduate of the Thunderbird School of Global Management. jumped at the chance to be a mentor. She is president and CEO of the Tia Foundation, which trains community-health workers in remote areas of Mexico.

“I’ve been a serial entrepreneur,” she said. “A lot of people helped me to get where I am and I wanted to help someone else do the same thing.”

Libman’s mentee was Eileen Pike, a member of the White Mountain Apache tribe who wants to create a start-up to improve the health of her community.

“I was foggy when I came here but after talking to her I’m a lot more foggy because she’s opened my eyes to so many possibilities,” Pike said of Libman.

“This entire training has been like a roadmap. You have this huge dream but you don’t know how to get it.”

Project DreamCatcher has shown her the path.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now