North Texas Daily

Coffee and Cultures Club helps students find common ground

Coffee and Cultures Club helps students find common ground

February 18
01:19 2016

Nikki Lyssy | Staff Writer

@Blindnikkii

A cheerful chatter rises from a spacious room tucked inside Marquis Hall as students sip on freshly-brewed Arabic coffee. The topic is Valentine’s Day—a holiday Americans have celebrated for centuries, but one foreign to the international students scattered about the room.

This is the reason that the Coffee and Cultures club exists—to aid international students in connecting both socially and culturally with their American counterparts. The club meets most Thursdays from noon to 1 p.m.

Volunteer leader and Palestinian Rani Espanioly arrived in the U.S. in 2011 as an international student and became interested in American culture.

“I got more interested to help with international students because [I was one],” Espanioly said. “I got connected with the International Student Cooperation, which is an organization that helps students get connected with international culture.”

Through the club, Espanioly became connected with the Intensive English Language Institute and came to them with the idea of “Coffee and Cultures.”

“We sit for hours over a cup of coffee and talk about several things,” he said. “I started making Arabic coffee and bringing snacks, and we talk about different topics, helping students to open up. A lot of international students… don’t open up because there’s a lot of issues, misunderstandings and misconceptions about the American language and life.”

Espanioly said the club has had a lasting effect on the many students who participate.

“It establishes a lot of friendships and relationships,” he said. “People get to know cultures from different places. We do a cultural exchange over topics [such as] education and stress. We build bridges of mutual understanding and respect.”

Topics are chosen on a weekly basis as needs present themselves.

“There are so many things going on in the international students’ lives,” Espanioly said.  “You try to tackle a topic that is relating to them as internationals, but also something that relates to American culture as well.”

International student and Saudi Arabia native Ali Alakula is currently studying the English language. He said he hopes to study criminal justice, business administration or human resources one day in the future. It’s an opportunity he cherishes.

“In my country we cannot study when we get older,” Alakula said. “There’s no school or organization that we can study [at thirty years or older]. The government chose my wife for a scholarship, so I came here and the government paid the requirements for me to study.”

Alakula said adjusting to Denton was easy because of the large number of international students at UNT.

“The local people of Denton are very friendly,” Alakula said. “I lived in Dallas for a few months and it was not like that.”

He said with such a wide range of nationalities—from America, Japan, China and more—Coffee and Cultures has been a give-and-take experience.

“I can know every culture and can benefit from them,” Alakula said. “I give them my benefits, also, if they learn something about my culture.”

Student assistant Raven Vincent said participating in Coffee and Cultures has been invaluable in helping him understand more about international cultures.

“There are so many differences [such as] holidays, politics and food,” Vincent said. “It’s a beautiful thing to find out that someone celebrates Christmas on the other side of the world in a completely different way than you do.”

She said she learned through her experience that no matter the culture, people are all related in one way or another.

“I did not know how similar life is in other parts of the world,” Vincent said. “Yes, we have our differences, but people—their family, their loyalties and their love—are all essentially the same.”

Featured Image: International Student and member of Coffee and Culture, Ali Alalkum, stands outside of Marquis Hall. The weekly coffee cultural meetings are held in the hall every Thursday on the third floor. Kaylen Howard | Staff Photographer

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