It was 1 p.m. Friday and the International Living-Learning Center at Oregon State University was hopping.
Staff and student ambassadors, decked out in matching gray polo shirts, were showing people around, answering questions and coping with a flock of students, prospective students, parents and visitors in town for Fall Family Weekend.
Benny Beaver was on hand, too, practicing his moves to accompany the drubbing the OSU football team plans to administer to USC on Saturday night.
Welcome to INTO OSU, the innovative public-private partnership that has been helping international students navigate their way to success for 10 years now.
OSU was the first university to sign up with INTO University Partnerships, a British company with an office in San Diego. OSU has been joined by 10 colleges and universities, including Washington State University and Colorado State University.
A total of 9,000 OSU students have been taught through the pathway, academic English and general English programs as well as short-term special programs. And it’s not just language skills that INTO OSU seeks to add to its students’ skill sets. Elena Sapp, director of INTO OSU academic programs, noted that there also are “cultural adjustments and adjustments to the American educational system” that international students face as well.
Julianna Betjemann, director of student experience at INTO OSU, offered an example.
“Maybe in your culture you are not supposed to talk in class. Only the professors do,” she said. “But if you never speak out here you might wind up with a zero in class participation.”
For Bhavya Parikh, a senior computer science student from Mumbai, India, it was the cultural issues that posed challenges.
“I knew English, but it was British English, not American English,” he said, noting the confusion that reigned when he wanted to spell the financial document “checque” while his Portland roommate spelled it “check.”
American use of Fahrenheit rather than Celsius when noting temperature also was an issue, as well as “all the slang and jargon being used in TV shows.”
Giuliana Guastavino, a senior from Argentina already had a good grasp of English when she arrived at OSU in 2015. And she already had mastered Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. But she wanted more.
“I wanted to be able to read and speak English 24/7 and write 10-page papers in English,” she said. “INTO OSU really helped me a lot.”
The advanced English work was vital for Guastavino because she is majoring in English with a minor in writing. She hopes to work in publishing post-graduation and said that a degree from OSU will give her a leg up when she tries to get jobs in her native Argentina.
Culturally, Guastavino was pleasantly surprised by her American fellow students.
“Everyone told that that Americans are very cold,” she said. “And when I went back home I had to tell them what a misperception that was. Everyone here has been so friendly.”
Guastavino also has learned to appreciate Thanksgiving, an American holiday that has no counterpart in Argentina.
OSU initially attracted Parikh because of its high ranking in research funding. He saw opportunities there, but he also learned to love Corvallis, a feeling shared by his family when they visited.
“Its natural beauty was a great attraction,” Parikh said. “Everywhere you go there are trees all around you. You experience the seasons more here. You see the leaves fall and then they come back in the spring. It’s really beautiful out here in Corvallis.”
And compared to bustling Mumbai, a metropolis of more than 20 million people, Parikh finds Corvallis peaceful. When his family visited they noted approvingly that most of the restaurants closed at 9 p.m.
“My family saw this as a positive. ‘You don’t need the nightlife,’ they told me. ‘Here you can study. … You can go to New York later.’ ”