Tippie Buddies group
August 26, 2016
Chase Castle

The University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business is bridging the gap between the college’s American and international students.

The program, called International Buddies at Tippie, started last spring and pairs business and pre-business undergrads for one semester. The goal is to assimilate international students into campus life.

International students represented nearly a quarter of last year’s freshmen business undergrads. Of those students, about 80 percent were from China, followed by South Korea and Malaysia.

Jennifer Blair, the [former] assistant director of global community engagement for Tippie’s undergraduate programs, said people shouldn’t discount the value of Iowa City’s international population for students.

“I think this is a really unique opportunity to expose those students to something totally different and to help them understand that the world is complicated and they’re going to have to work with people very different than themselves,” Blair said.

A survey at UI last year reported that international students feel significantly less respected and have less sense of belonging than domestic students.

“I think some students don’t appreciate the extent to which international students do want to be a part of the culture here,” Blair said. “They’ve made a huge decision and sacrifice to do part of their education here.”

The program groups students based on major, interests and personalities. Following the introductory welcoming session, students meet one-on-one and during social activities throughout the semester. At those meetings, students are encouraged to discuss issues beyond school.

Yijun Huang, 20, is an accounting and finance student at Tippie who plans to graduate in May. She completed the first semester of the Tippie buddy program last spring.

Huang said she looking for a more multicultural experience than she would have received in her native China when she decided to study in the U.S. She initially struggled with the language barrier and said it was difficult to acclimate to cultural differences in Iowa.

Huang said she enjoyed having a structured relationship with someone who could answer questions and provide feedback about university life and U.S. culture.

“I think the biggest part of it is that you actually have a buddy with you and you can always reach her, by phone or by email, and you have someone you can talk to,” Huang said.

Josh Hjelmaas, 18, a freshman from Johnston, plans to major in finance. He was one of the 83 American students taking part in this semester’s buddy program.

“I really want to get involved in the international community here at Tippie,” Hjelmaas said. “Everything’s becoming global, so it’s the best way to get introduced to that stuff, if I can get involved early.”