iPALS geared toward cultural awareness


The Appalachian Online

Madison Barlow

When junior biology major Jane Hamrick first began getting involved with iPALS, she didn’t realize that she would be making a lifelong friend.

iPALS is a club on campus affiliated with the International Education and Development department that matches international exchange students with current, domestic students to encourage friendships and cultural exchange, according to www.international.appstate.edu.

Hamrick said she found out about iPALS after attending a Baptist Campus Ministry meeting last semester.

“Some iPALS members were at the meeting, and were asking for volunteers to pair with international students to help them with English and a better understanding of America,” Hamrick said. “I knew it sounded like a good opportunity to get involved internationally, but I never thought I would find a friend like Mimi.”

Hamrick was matched with Japanese exchange student Mimi Takahashi.

“The first thing Mimi and I did was get lunch,” Hamrick said. “Even [though] there is a cultural difference, we clicked from the beginning. I didn’t get the opportunity to study abroad, so iPALS gave me the opportunity to experience another culture here at home.”abroad, so iPALS gave me the opportunity to experience another culture here at home.”

Jerry Zhang, founding member of the organization and senior computer information systems major said the club was originally formed to help raise cultural awareness on campus.

“My Korean friend Michelle came to me with the idea in the fall semester of 2013,” Zhang said. “Michelle was an exchange student and thought that there needed to be a better international network for students, so that’s what we set out to do.”

As of right now, Zhang said there are about 40 international students and 40 domestic students.The pairs are matched up based on similarities and interests after profiles are run through a computer system.

“It’s almost like a dating system,” Zhang said. “After we have all the applications in for the domestic and international students, we enter their preferences in to a computer system. Then matching takes about two nights, and then emails are sent out to the students inviting them to an iPAL meeting to meet their match.”

Hamrick said she would describe her experience through iPALS as rewarding and that her favorite part about being Takahashi’s American pal is getting to show her the ins and outs of American culture.

“It was the little things that were so fun with Mimi,” she said. “I took her home with me for the week after exams, and we had so much fun. She had never pumped gas or gone to a car wash. And she had never had her nails done at a nail salon. She loved that, and wants us to go back. Mimi thinks that everything in America is so great. It makes me appreciate what I have a little more.”

Takahashi agreed that the experience has been rewarding for her as well.

“My favorite part about going to Jane’s after exam week was experiencing a little bit of a traditional American Christmas,” Takahashi said. “It was really special to meet all of Jane’s family. They made me feel like family.”

Zhang said he has big hopes for iPALS in the future.

“I hope that we can make iPALS more known on campus,” Zhang said. “Getting more international students would be great. In the long haul, though, I’d love to see iPALS partner with other campus organizations to make for a more diverse campus.”

As for Takahashi and Hamrick’s future, though, Hamrick said she would like to visit Takahashi in Japan.

“Mimi has already invited me to come to her home and experience her culture,” Hamrick said. “I hope I can visit Japan one day. Either way, we will definitely stay in touch. Mimi and I are good friends.”

Story: Madison Barlow, Intern News Reporter