By Sherry Hayden
Did you know international students comprise about one-eighth of the student body at UM-Flint? It turns out you can have a truly international experience right here in Flint, Michigan. It’s exciting to travel to other countries and cities to learn about our differences and our similarities. That’s what is happening right here, right now.
Some of these international students have been working for a couple years on a documentary about their experiences coming to the UM-Flint from their native countries. The new documentary, Immigrant U: Our Story, Our Way, was conceived by students of Kendrick Jones, who lectures in the Theatre Department. Kendrick also is the director and founder of Shop Floor Theatre Company (SFTC), a non-profit housed in the UM-Flint University Outreach Innovation Incubator. SFTC is funded by a grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation, which funded the documentary and all the work leading up to it.
The students premiered the documentary at UM-Flint November 18, 2015 to a full house in the KIVA. It was followed by live, theatrical performances from some of the students.
I sat with my new friend Abeer, who immigrated from Sudan. She works across the hall from the Incubator at the Northbank Center. It is interesting to hear her perspectives; I am always impressed with how brave it is for anyone to move to a new country and start over. I’ve only visited other countries for a few months, and can only imagine being apart from my family and friends, and the land that I love so much, for an extended period of time.
We listened to the students talk about the difficulties of coming to a new country, being accepted by others, and even dealing with Michigan’s climate. When one of the performers pleaded with the audience, “I don’t know anything about American football – will you still love me?” Abeer spontaneously cried out, “I will!” The whole audience laughed. I was delighted – gentle humor is the common language here. Love and friendship are our common languages as well.
What this production revealed is that we are much more alike than we are different. Most of the problems presented by the students from India, Saudi Arabia, France, Nigeria and Jamaica really are no different from new students who grew up locally. Everyone has difficulty, especially the first semester of college. It’s new, different, and that requires adjustment. Every student wonders if she will make friends, fit in, and find her way around in the world.
A key message of the international students is that they want to be your friends and they want to learn and grow with you. That’s really what most people want, regardless of where they were born. UM-Flint is a great place to do that.