Culture and coffee create community

by Jenni Leahy / Beacon Correspondent • February 21, 2013

International curtesy of aakruti jagmohan
A group of international students pose at an event.
courtesy of Aakruti Jagmohan
A group of international students pose at an event.
courtesy of Aakruti Jagmohan

When students want to have an enlightened discussion about different cultures and are craving a cup of Joe, there is a place they can go: International Coffee Hour.

In the basement of Piano Row every other Thursday, International Coffee Hour can be found in The Cultural Center. The cozy room has several cushy armchairs placed around a table, laden with coffee and cookies. Inside are students from all over the world, which is immediately evident from the medley of accents speaking about anything from Indian food to fraternity life.

Coordinator of International Student Affairs Yelena Galperina said the coffee hour is meant to be a laid-back event.

“Coffee hour is very casual, so you don’t have to dress up or do anything. We tell people to bring their own lunch and we’ll provide the coffee.” said Galperina. “We try to make it as accessible as possible so that anyone can come.”

The International Student Affairs Office hosts the event from 12:30 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. every other Thursday in the Cultural Center in the Max Mutchnick Campus Center.

The Office of International Student Affairs chose to institute bi-weekly coffee hours in an attempt to bring students together to talk about their backgrounds, and to give domestic students a chance to widen their perspectives, according to Galperina. All students are welcome to bring their lunch and converse about different cultures with people who have diverse upbringings.

Many people come to these events to share what they have experienced and tell stories from the places they came from. According to junior journalism major Aakruti Jagmohan, some of the stories are shocking to hear. 

“You hear all these stories, and you’re like, is that even possible?” said Jagmohan, who also works as a junior coordinator for the International Student Affairs Office.

International Coffee Hour was introduced to Emerson’s campus a few years ago according to Galperina, but the meetings stopped because staff members were not available to promote and organize the programming. Two years passed before Galperina decided to try and recreate the event. Coffee Hour is now in its third semester since coming back.

“We used to have these coffee hours for our office where students from all over the world could just come in and just talk about culture and be able to get away from school and just have some coffee and connect,” says Galperina.

Each week attendance varies from five to 10 people, according to Galperina. It is easier for the office to reach out to international students because it has their names on a contact list. Emails are sent out to international students before upcoming events, while domestic students have to make an effort to be aware of what’s going on in the international community. 

However, the office stresses that every student is welcome and encouraged to attend.

Galperina admits never knowing who will turn up can create obstacles, but the office does its best to reach out to students through Facebook, sending newsletters and emails, and posting the event on eCampus. 

There are many organizations on Emerson’s campus that focus on bringing different cultures together, such as EBONI, ASIA, Amigos, EAGLE, Speak Up, and Emerson International, an umbrella organization. 

Jagmohan said International Coffee Hour stands out amongst the multi-cultural organizations because of its conversational and relaxed approach. This allows students to get to know one another on a more personal level, all while drinking cups of  java.

For Jagmohan, an international student from India, the Coffee Hours are something to look forward to.

“Personally, I’m a culture freak,” she said. “Culture is my drug, and I just love learning about it. And I think that’s what makes me want to come back, not only because it’s my job to be here, but seeing different people who you don’t generally meet.”

International students like Jagmohan encourage more domestic students to join the meetings, stating that there is a stereotype that Americans are ignorant about other cultures and places.

“You have to break that stereotype that Americans don’t know anything about anything else, as if there’s this bubble,” said Jagmohan.

U.S News & World Report released an article in March 2007 that looked at America’s shortcomings compared to the rest of the world in education, infant mortality rate, and life expectancy, among other factors. It found that there was a lot the nation could learn from other countries. 

“I think the average American will only know other cultures from what they see on TV, making our image of the culture distorted.” said Daniel Begin, a freshman performing arts major. “I think people need an International Coffee Hour to get a better understanding of other cultures.”

Galperina said the International Coffee Hour is a way for Emerson to bridge the gap between its international and domestic students in a relaxed, informal setting where everyone is encouraged to share their story.

“There are unlimited possibilities of cultures and stories you can hear here. Definitely come here. There’s always coffee and cookies,” said Jagmohan. “Step out of your comfort zone and explore a new area of interest.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Interntional Coffee Hour stopped a few years ago because of poor attendance. It stopped because staff was not available at the time to organize and promote the event.