An International Welcome
Students not paying attention to fliers posted around the SFUAD campus are surprised to hear pulsing bass emanating from the cafeteria the evening of Jan. 23. The Multi-Cultural Foods Expo, put on by Student Life, has taken over the Grill. The event begins at 7:45 p.m. and is accompanied by a live DJ with karaoke. The gate opens just a few minutes later than usual with students lining up for an evening snack.
In addition to standard Grill fare, Bon Appetit provides a spread of international food, featuring cuisine from Scandinavia, Costa Rica and Mexico. Fried plantains stand on a plate above open-faced shrimp and salmon sandwiches. A burgeoning bowl of rice and beans is complemented by Salsa Lizano, a sauce commonly found in Costa Rican dishes. Dessert is a delicious tres leches cake, a type of sponge cake popular in Central and South America. Amidst the dishes and warming trays is a tree of plastic flags from Canada, Finland and Mexico, among other countries.
“It’s just a little welcome back treat,” says David DeVillier, assistant director of Campus Life. “They’ll keep it coming if we run out.”
I am attending this event as part of my work study job in the International Office. My supervisor is Global Partnership Manager, Radi Simeonova. She hopes the event will help bring more awareness to the number of international students attending SFUAD. “There are two ways to think about it,” she says. “First, there are our international students who transfer here to obtain a degree. Then there are our students who come for short programs, either for a semester abroad or a three-week program.”
Currently, SFUAD has 30 international transfer students and 67 semester abroad students. Of those 67, there are 40 who have returned this spring for a second or even a third semester. Anna Sainz, who has been studying abroad for three semesters, has enjoyed her time at SFUAD so much that she plans on transferring to the school.
As 8 p.m. approaches, DJ Diego DeAguero begins inviting students to sign up for karaoke. He and his assistant Camille Gonzalez sit at a foldout workstation, lit from behind by neon floor lights. DeAguero lives in Santa Fe, but provides his services all over the state of New Mexico. This is not his typical venue. “Usually everyone’s at the bar,” he says.
Alvie Hurt sits at a table just a few feet away from the DJ’s karaoke books. Hurt is a transfer student, currently in his fourth semester at SFUAD. He began school in Vancouver, Canada, but transferred to SFUAD after his freshman year. Beside him sits Priscilla Steele, an exchange student from Costa Rica who is here for her first semester. Neither one of them seems particularly interested in singing. They plan to leave before the karaoke begins. They do not appear confident in their ability to perform, nor are they enthused about the idea of doing so in front of a crowd. They aren’t the only ones.
“I sing terribly. Seriously, terribly,” says Fernanda Sanchez. She sits at a long table, overflowing with her friends. Some of them pull up additional chairs. Sanchez is from Mexico and is taking classes in photography, graphic design and ceramics. Despite her low estimation of her vocal skills, this does not stop her from singing along as students begin stepping up to the mic.
As Contemporary Music major John Church begins belting out the first song of the evening, I try to ingratiate myself with Sanchez and her friends. I rarely take the time out to get to know our international students, choosing to stay in the comfort zone of my small circle of friends. Derek Morales, a domestic student from Connecticut, spends most of his time with international students. When asked why, he responds, “They’re more down to earth.”
“This is the Mexican table,” says Anna Sainz, pointing out that everyone seated around her hails from Mexico. The obvious exceptions are Morales and Film major Vincent Mann, who is seated at the opposite end of the table. His girlfriend is noticeably absent.
“She wasn’t able to come back this semester,” he says. Mann’s girlfriend, whom he met at the beginning of the fall, is also from Mexico.
The enthusiasm in the room begins to build as Alec Brown approaches the mic. Reading the lyrics from a 12-inch, Samsung monitor taped to a plastic stand, Brown sings the opening lines of Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” He is joined by backup dancers and some people in the audience begin clapping along. The song ends with Brown collapsed on the floor.
Sitting across from Sanchez and Sainz is Valerie Mack. It is her first semester here and she is studying industrial design, a field that involves everything from the designing of cars and airplanes to furniture. Just like Alvie Hurt, Mack spent some time living in Vancouver, but returned to Mexico when her mother tired of the cold and snow.
“Do you want to build a snowman?” Morales sings. Sanchez and Sainz immediately wrap their arms around each other’s shoulders and begin singing the Disney tune.
Bruna Bittencourt, a semester abroad student from Brazil, sits at a neighboring table. This is her first semester at SFUAD and she is majoring in Film. She says she was completely unprepared for the snow. When told she can expect more over the next few months, she covers her face and holds herself tight, as though she can already feel the chill. “I need to buy more clothes!”
The evening had started out slow, with most students too nervous to sing. Now there are spontaneous bursts of dancing, either backing up the singers or erupting at the foot of the stairs. It doesn’t matter if the vocalist is off key or doesn’t know the song. Everyone gets involved, cheering on their friends. Sanchez and Sainz rock in their seats as Ajaneece Johnson sings TLC’s “Scrubs.” Alec Brown returns to the microphone for an attempt at “Somewhere Out There,” from An American Tail. “Somewhere out there,” he sings in a high-pitched, Fievel Mousekewitz squeak. This is the only portion of the song he gets to sing as the CD starts to skip. “I want to throw roses at him,” says Sainz.
The next singer to rock the cafeteria brings some strings with him. Ricardo Gonzalez sits down in front of the mic with his guitar, assisted by Itzel Garcia, who holds a wireless mic up to his mouth. Gonzalez performs two original songs, making up the words and music on the spot. Gonzalez is attending SFUAD as a Studio Arts major. He tells me he is a little disappointed by the poor audio and the minimal applause from the audience. Nevertheless, he seems unfazed. “It’s not about how you play,” he says, slapping the body of his instrument, “but how you pull it off.”
More students begin passing through the cafeteria on their late-night Grill run as the clock nears 9 P.M. Rosario Aramburo rises from her chair to perform Blink 182’s “All the Small Things” with her friends. Also from Mexico, it is not Aramburo’s first time in the United States. She lived in Arizona from the time she was six until she was 14 years old. She is now studying graphic design and animation at SFUAD.
The karaoke books are a little difficult to wade through, not being in any particular order, but I manage to find one of my signature karaoke songs. I jump up and down and mime a guitar solo and imitate Paul McCartney’s vocals on “Back in the U.S.S.R.” When I am done, almost all of the international students have vacated their tables, perhaps to escape further interviews. At the same time, I wonder if it might be easier to speak to them if I took the time out to get to know them outside of my official capacities on campus.
With the international students gone, we have lost half of the audience. The DJ announces that there is only one hour left to sing. Those remaining begin flipping through the pages of the karaoke books, emboldened by the courage of those who have gone before. I decide to head back to my dorm, but not before Nik Thomas talks me into joining him on the glorious falsettos of “Stayin’ Alive.”