Originally published April 10, 2015
By Daniel Perez
UTEP News Service
A handful of international students from The University of Texas at El Paso got a quick lesson in the Paso del Norte region’s history and culture during a recent trip organized by UTEP’s Office of International Programs (OIP).
The March 28 familiarization tour was part of an ongoing OIP effort to engage students with different activities that will help them academically, professionally and socially. Activities scheduled during the spring 2015 included outings to UTEP basketball games and workshops for scholarship applications, career counseling and immigration information. A summer trip to Carlsbad Caverns is in the works.
UTEP registered almost 1,900 international students from 69 countries around the world during the fall 2014 semester. The OIP helps those students with their University compliance, but also works to help them get acclimated to the area. The goal is to create successful graduates who can be knowledgeable ambassadors for the region and the University.
Emmanual Sequeira, a first-year graduate student studying statistics, said he enjoyed exploring the area and hearing details about its history, commerce and culture that he would not have known had it not been for the special tour. He especially enjoyed seeing the stained glass ceiling above the Dome Bar inside the Camino Real Hotel.
“Activities like these promote a healthy learning environment and enhance my all around education at UTEP,” said Sequeira, a native of India who grew up in the United Arab Emirates. “I can tell the University wants its international students to feel at ease living in El Paso to bring the best out of every one of us.”
This was OIP’s first tour of El Paso and organizer Ebenezer Anom said he hoped to do another early in the fall and spring semesters. Last month’s excursion stopped in Downtown El Paso, Scenic Drive and the El Paso Saddleblanket Co., but also swung by other shopping and entertainment venues and points of interest such as Fort Bliss and the Wyler Aerial Tramway. The goal is to offer a regional overview that whets the students’ appetite for additional exploring.
The OIP also has scheduled visits to help at the Lee and Beulah Moor Children’s Home, 1100 E. Cliff Drive, near campus so its students can participate in community service, said Anom, a senior nursing major from Ghana who has served as OIP event coordinator since 2013.
“We want to expand their environment,” Anom said.
Diana Pineda, a second-year doctoral student in the Teaching, Learning and Culture program, said the tour was informative, and knowing more of the city’s background added to her appreciation of living on the border. However, the Colombian native said she mostly enjoyed bonding with her fellow international students.
Building camaraderie and understanding of other cultures within the University’s student body are among the reasons for UTEP’s biggest activity that rallies interest in UTEP’s international students: the annual International Food Fair conducted during the fall semester in the Union Breezeway. The event on Oct. 27, 2014, drew about 1,100 students, staff and faculty who enjoyed cuisine from 14 student organizations that represented countries such as Spain, China, Jamaica, Mexico and India. Proceeds went to the student organizations. Servers often use the opportunity to share information about their countries.
“We want UTEP students to appreciate cultural differences so they can have a better understanding of global society,” said Catie McCorry-Andalis, Ed.D., associate vice president and dean of students, whose office oversees the OIP. “We organize events that allow our international students to begin a dialogue.”
The program assists the students and their family members with paperwork to maintain their nonimmigrant status, and provides immigration advising and services. The office in Room 203 of Union Building East also provides passport services for U.S. citizens.
International students said they learned about UTEP through word of mouth, visiting faculty or through their own Internet research. Many of them as undergraduates gravitate toward majors such as nursing, and degrees in the colleges of Engineering and Business Administration according to UTEP’s Center for Institutional Evaluation, Research and Planning.
Charlie Horak, a fourth-generation El Pasoan and 1962 civil engineering graduate of Texas Western College (now UTEP), was among those who helped organize the El Paso tour. He supplied the 15-passenger van and secured the services of an experienced tour guide from Sí! El Paso Tours, Inc., to provide the commentary.
“I want the students to learn about our culture and hospitality,” said Horak, who praised the University for its role in attracting talented, hard-working international students to the region. “It would be a shame if they don’t get to experience what this area has to offer.”