Nassau Weekly (11/15/84)
TOASTING AN INTERNATIONAL TENTH
By E. Randol Schoenberg (’88)
The image on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—two hands reaching out to each other across a globe—also serves as the symbol for Princeton’s International Center. Michaelangelo’s masterpiece inspired two students—an Ecudorian (sic) and an Italian-American—to propose the logo. An Indian undergraduate did the artwork, and a Native American silk-screened the symbol onto T-shirts. Both the image and the people who created it exemplify the unity of the International Center. More than a special interest organization, the Center reaches out to the entire campus: “A place for us all,” says their motto.
Director Paula Chow helped found the International Center in 1974 to serve the increasing number of foreign students on campus. For the past decade the Center has eased the “culture shock” and served as a point of immersion into American life for almost 1000 foreign students and scholars. It stands as a source of international friendship and understanding for the rest of Princeton.
The International Center celebrates its tenth anniversary this Sunday (November 18), featuring a lecture by Moorehead Kennedy, Jr. The 1952 Princeton graduate will speak at 4:15 p.m. in the Woodrow Wilson School’s Dod Auditorium with a reception immediately following. As with any event sponsored by the International Center, all students, faculty, and community members are welcome.
Captured while on a three-month temporary assignment as acting Head of Economics at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran, Kennedy was held hostage in Iran for 444 days, and witnessed the terror caused by students who were misinformed about Americans. After his release he formed the Council for International Understanding to promote peace by teaching the acceptance of the beliefs, customs and values of others. His goal is similar to the International Center’s.
“I am particularly concerned about the experience foreign students get at American universities,” says Kennedy. “It is like a time bomb—they don’t speak English, and they don’t mix in American life. When they return they understand very little about America and that has a large impact on the foreign affairs of our country and theirs. That is why it is important to have the International Center and the weekly luncheons.” On Sunday Kennedy will speak of “Why Americans have difficulty relating to other countries, and America’s confused moral values in foreign affairs,” following the theme of his upcoming book, The Ayatollah in the Cathedral: Lessons from Iran.
One way in which the Center accomplishes its basic purpose of “bringing awareness to the rest of the community,” junior Nandita Parshad suggests, is with weekly lunches, which are open to everyone. Every Thursday approximately 180 students crowd into Murray-Dodge to enjoy a variety of ethnic foods prepared and served by community volunteers who have become involved with the Center through the Community Outreach program. “The lunches are a place where American students can meet foreign students,” Parshad explains. Students also cook special meals during the breaks, which attract over 100 otherwise stranded students.
The Center provides tutoring services for foreign graduate and undergraduate students. This year, sixty students have taken advantage of the program made possible by student, alumni and community volunteers. Foreign students may also be matched with one of the 110 host families in Princeton. Teresita Heron, who hosts four students, explains that they are welcomed by the host family, whose task it is to make them feel comfortable away from home.” The hosts invite their students home for dinner, show them around town and provide for them during the holidays.
The relationship is reciprocal: according to Adela Wilmerding, former President of the Friends of the International Center, “The host family program adds a rewarding dimension to our lives. It allows townspeople who normally would not be involved with Princeton to feel part of the University.”
The interaction of students and community is one of the great successes of the center. Senior Pam Berkowsky, co-organizer of the International Festival, finds that the Center is “one of the only places that brings community and students together.” Foreign students speak at meetings of organizations like the YMCA, the Rotary Club, the Old Guard Club and the Present Day Club. Latin American speakers recently spoke with sixth and seventh graders at the John Witherspoon School in Princeton.
“The Spring International Festival is our best forum for maximum exposure of this campus’ diverse cultures,” says Chow. An eight-hour affair held in Dillon Gym each spring, the Festival treats 2500 people to a variety of foods and display booths by the many international organizations on campus. Three hundred volunteers help to run the festival.
The Center also serves as a resource center for these organizations; ethnic clubs and societies rely on Chow for advice, mailing lists and organizational help. Junior Takashi Sensui started with a list of only 12-15 students for the newly-founded Princeton Japanese Society. With the center’s help, membership is now close to 60 and includes graduate students as well as undergraduates. The PJS will hold its first dinner on November 17. The center has also helped Native Americans at Princeton to organize a dinner, their first, on November 15.
The largest of the Center’s special projects is the two-month card sale for UNICEF. Heron is now in her third year as organizer of the event. From November 12, until Christmas she will be selling the cards. Monday through Saturday, 10:30 A.M.-4:00 P.M., in the International Center Office in Murray Dodge Hall. On December 6 local artist George Ivers will be on hand to sign his own cards, during lunch at Murray-Dodge. Last year the Center raised over $15,000 and Heron is hoping to reach $18,000 this year. That all the money will be donated to UNICEF is, as Chow explains, “a visible display of the spirit of cooperation and good will that enlivens the International Center.”
Like many other University organizations, the International Center is short on staffing and facilities. Chow is the only paid staff member; while her position is officially part-time, she actually works full-time without additional compensation. All other personnel are volunteers from inside and outside the University. One small room in Murray-Dodge Hall—less than 300 square feet—is the only office space. All activities must be scheduled in areas reserved for other organizations. Dean Borsch lets the Center use the dining hall in Murray-Dodge once a week, but even that is too small. Prashad says, “When I was a freshman, about 40-50 people came to the lunches—now they average 180. There is not enough room in Murray-Dodge for such a popular event.” Chow reflects, “It’s been an uphill struggle—even until now. We still don’t have the facilities.”
The International Center is one of three University-founded centers. Compared to the Women’s Center and the Third World Center, the International Center has the smallest facilities and the smallest staff, yet may have the largest impact on the Princeton community. Berkowsky says, “There is no comparable place. (The Center) is really for the entire university. Other (centers) seem restrictive, but this is for everybody on campus.” Chow extends the spirit of good will: “We are a bridge to the community, and the only place that offers students of different levels a chance to meet each other.” Says Heron, who is using one half of the 15’ X 15’ office for a display of UNICEF cards, “We need a bigger place. And more support from President Bowen.”