Photos courtesy of University Archives

The international student community at Fresno State

By Savannah Nakamura, Henry Madden Library

For well over 50 years, Fresno State has welcomed international students to its campus. These students from all over the globe have shared their culture with the Fresno State student body and returned home with fond memories of Fresno and their time spent on campus.

As early as 1960, the Service for International Students Committee was dedicated to assisting foreign students adjust to campus life and lend support to the overseas drive to recruit students from abroad. This committee sponsored social activities, such as an international dinner and World Show, to welcome students from as far away as Germany, Turkey and Norway.

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By the 1970s, there were over 500 foreign students, making up over 3 percent of the student body. This made Fresno State the host of the second largest international population in the CSU system. To celebrate the diversity of the campus, students held an International Week. Each day of the week was dedicated to a different continent, with students from that continent celebrating and sharing about their country. The week included films, raising of foreign flags in the free speech area, music, fashion shows, lectures, dancing and an arts and crafts exhibit. The highlight of the week was the international dinner which featured Ethiopian chicken, Chinese rice and Swiss Black Forest Cake. To wrap up the week, the students held sports competitions, passed out snacks from their home countries and hosted a variety show on Saturday evening.

Over 70 countries were represented by over 1,000 students by the mid-1980s. With the growing international student population came increased opportunities for intercultural engagement. The International Student Services and Programs office established a speakers’ bureau to allow foreign students to share their cultures with their American classmates while the Career Development and Employment Services center coordinated workshops to assist foreign students with their job searches and interview techniques. On the field, Fresno State teams began to recruit athletes from Nigeria, England, Canada, Belgium, Sweden and France to participate in track and field, soccer and tennis.

A decade later, the Fresno State campus was host to nearly 2,000 foreign students. These students were instrumental in creating the International Coffee Hour in 1993, which gave foreign students and professors the opportunity to give an informal presentation about their culture and allowed the student body to experience other parts of the world without leaving Fresno. Student organizations also coordinated social events for international students including Halloween and holiday parties, ice skating, skiing and a trip to San Francisco.

In addition to the numerous student-led clubs and activities, today’s Fresno State international community continues to share their culture at the International Coffee Hour. The students also actively participate in an International Culture Night, and an International Commencement celebration.

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