Globalization in one single room: The Global Café Series

Washington, DC – Next to a colorful globe, standing next to Matrushkas, the Russian Stacking Dolls, and Nigerian masks, Alison Nagy, the Advisor on Immigration and Compliance welcomes the guests at the reception desk to the second Global Café Meeting on the 4th floor of Butler Pavilion. It is embedded in the area between the Mary Graydon Center and the Kogod School of Business on the main campus of American University.
“It has been a very popular tradition in our office at the International Student and Scholar Services,” says Nagy.
On the left, the lobby presents a little buffet consisting mainly of Nachos with gluten-free Tzatziki, a Greek style yogurt dip, from Hannah, cheese slices, and brown coffee boxes from Starbucks, accompanied by paper plates, chocolate-bars from Kirkland, and Granola-bars from Quaker.
Many photos of Latin American, Hindu, Indian, and Muslim ceremonies additionally decorate the lobby´s walls next to the shelves with its exotic souvenirs. These reached from hand-painted bus models of clay from Colombia through Chinese bronze flower vases and puppets from Chile to silver pots beautified with red and green gemstones in golden frames from India.
“A lot of them are presents or gifts from our scholars or students,” describes Nagy. “These souvenirs were purchased and donated by traveling students to share their experiences with us. It is an interesting display in our office.”
Embedded in a hot and humid, almost tropical atmosphere, many sweating people use their napkins to dry their wet foreheads. Half of the students have their bags with them, holding a cup of hot coffee, cookies, and brownies.
The walls in the lobby exhibit posters promoting programs sponsored by the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) itself, for instance The Talk Program, The Peer Mentorship Program, and the Language Exchange Program. Furthermore, a big pinboard presents the Front Desk Staff from which the best known employees are the Student Advisor from Cambodia Essarayoss Mean and the New Students Program Coordinator from Taiwan Iris Wu.
Wu, who is also in charge of two other programs for new students, The International Peer Mentorship Program as well as The Language Exchange Program, since 2013, explains the purpose and charm of this concept: “The aim of the program is to bring both international and domestic students together and provide a place to hang out and socialize for all students on campus. So, students can get familiar with the office setting and get to know the staff in the social and casual setting.”
After the welcome, all thirty students started to split into ten groups consisting of two to four people and went out to the patio on the balcony where the sun shone brightly. A Cambodian song called “Woman in the Shoes” from the album “Venus on Earth” by the band “Dengue Fever” supported the mellow conversations.
Initiated in 2008, the once called “Coffee Hour” was then renamed “Global Café” in 2012. It usually takes place in the first five weeks of a semester and is themed, meaning that it is only reinitiated for special occasions, for instance Valentine´s Day, Thanksgiving, before the final Study Break or midterms.
“There will be probably no more major innovations to come for the concept,” describes Mean, “because the main part of the program is to kind of have it in the office.”
This Fall 2014 Global Café Series takes place on the first four Fridays of this fall semester in the afternoon, from four to five o´clock on the average, and has already been held on August 29 and today, September 5. Now there remain two more official meetings to be called, on September 12 and 19.
The large spectrum of international students there is very diverse, representing European as well as Asian and Middle Eastern countries, ranging from France and Spain over Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, India to China and Japan.
Wu sees a great potential in these conventions to help students to connect socially, facilitating to familiarize themselves with their new environment.
“I am really happy about the job I have right now,” explains Wu. “It allows me to meet interesting students from all over the place and just talk to people about things in an open-minded way.”