International Education Week celebrates Rice’s cornucopia of cultures

When Jones College freshman Hung Nguyen arrived at Rice from Vietnam, he was already prepared to introduce himself to his new American classmates with a Westernized version of his first name. “Hung,” he figured, would be tough for them to pronounce. But when the time came to meet his O-Week group, Nguyen couldn’t do it — he told them his actual name, in his language, then offered the Western alternative just in case.

The annual Mini World Cup soccer tournament is a beloved IEW tradition. (Photos by Marjorie Cerejo)

The annual Mini World Cup soccer tournament is a beloved IEW tradition. (Photos by Marjorie Cerejo)

To his surprise, everyone opted for “Hung,” and learned to pronounce it as closely as they could. It was a small thing, Nguyen said, but important.

“Just from hearing people call me by my own name, I could feel that I was still myself, and that my origin and my culture were still appreciated here,” Nguyen wrote in his award-winning essay for International Education Week 2019. “Maybe I would not have to become a different person just to fit in.”

Each year, the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) hosts International Education Week (IEW) activities as way to connect and celebrate Rice’s large global cohort of students — undergraduate and graduate students alike. Held during the third week of November, the annual IEW traditions include a popular Thanksgiving lunch and Mini World Cup soccer tournament.

For 2019, IEW spanned close to two weeks thanks to a packed agenda of information sessions, networking events with alumni, international coffee breaks and cooking classes, study abroad luncheons and the festive International Fall Night 2019, which packed the Rice Memorial Center’s Grand Hall with over 20 clubs from across campus, each offering tastes of their culture through music, food, games and performances.

Offices across campus participated in IEW, including Brasil@Rice, the Center for Career Development, the Center for Civic Leadership, the Center for Languages & Intercultural Communication, Fondren Library, Gibbs Recreation & Wellness Center, the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the Graduate Student Association, Housing & Dining, the Humanities Research Center, the Office of Alumni Relations, the Office of the President, the Puentes Consortium, the Mexico Center, Rice Athletics, Rice Coffeehouse, the Rice International Student Association, Student Activities, the Student Association and the Study Abroad Office.

The yearly OISS Thanksgiving lunch in Farnsworth Pavilion is hugely popular with international students.

The yearly OISS Thanksgiving lunch in Farnsworth Pavilion is hugely popular with international students.

“International Education Week 2019 at Rice illustrates what a global university truly is,” said Adria Baker, associate vice provost for international education and executive director of the OISS.

“Embedded in our internationally focused activities across campus are programs exemplifying our global DNA,” Baker said, noting a few of the diverse offerings this year: Espresso Yourself, the international poetry night hosted at Rice Coffeehouse; a “learn the library” tour of Fondren in Mandarin; a Tutti Frutti afternoon, to polish up Spanish skills while playing the popular Argentine board game; and a recipe exchange and essay contest, in which the OISS planted a tree via American Forests every time a recipe or essay was submitted.

In his first-place essay, Nguyen admitted that acclimating to a new country and a new campus was tougher than his initial O-Week experience may have predicted.

The number of international students OISS serves at Rice has doubled in the last decade, with Rice’s overall international student population increasing 7% in the past year. Today, 1 in every 4 Rice students is from outside the U.S.

Through events such as International Education Week, the OISS hopes to ease transitions into a new culture by offering opportunities to learn about and explore other cultures.

Espresso Yourself, a poetry night, was a new addition to this year's IEW line-up of activities.

Espresso Yourself, a poetry night at Coffeehouse, was a new addition to this year’s IEW line-up of activities.

Being open to such a learning process, Nguyen wrote in his essay, was similarly important to his own transition, as he retained his love for Vietnamese food and music while becoming more involved in American activities around him.

“I was always more than ready to share about my own culture, which my friends were in turn eager to learn about,” he said. “In this process of change, I lost nothing of my original self, but only became stronger and better.”

Two months into life at Rice, Nguyen wrote, he now has a new perspective on what it takes to adapt and when to adopt.

“Cultural adaptation should not be a one-way drastic effort to change every aspect of our life, yet neither should we keep ourselves in our comfort zone and let nature take its course,” he said. “Instead, acculturation is a two-way exchange in which both sides — the foreign and the domestic — make some efforts to learn more about each other, and through that process of mutual learning, become better versions of ourselves.”

About Katharine Shilcutt

Katharine Shilcutt is a media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.