In studying international student communities at a small-town liberal arts college compared to a larger state school, it isn't hard to uncover a much more thought-provoking story. This story starts with a wall:
The most obvious parallel between Westminster and MU has to do with division. Between the two, there are many divides that involve different teaching styles, different learning environments and different campus atmospheres.
Within the schools, deeper divisions become clear. A division between international students and domestic. A division between different international students. A division between students' cultural roots and their new American identities.
At Westminster, a portion of the Berlin Wall stands prominent on a hillside. This segment has been repurposed as an art piece and named "Breakthrough."
Winston Churchill gave his famous "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster in 1946 and spoke of a great divide across Europe.
Just as "Breakthrough" seeks to symbolize the dismantling of the Cold War divide Churchill mentioned that day, students and faculty alike (on both campuses) are actively working to dismantle the walls that divide them.
This comparative story is one of divisions, but more importantly,it is a story about identity. Rather than dwell on differences, community members focus on crafting their identities to be unique individuals, constantly breaking through the "iron curtain" still present in aspects of their lives today.
For many international students at MU, being a part of Greek Life is not only improbable but almost impossible. Here rests a stark divide.
In Fall 2015, International Student Welcome will be Aug. 17–19 and Panhellenic Formal Recruitment will be Aug. 16–23. Again, international students in their first years will have little to no chance to join Greek Life.
Sirtori-Cortina, one of only a handful of international students at MU involved in Greek Life, said her Colombian identity has been "diluted" after moving around as a child, then taking root in Columbia, Missouri.
Sirtori-Cortina said she blends in more so in the U.S. than she did in some South American countries, but is also a minority as a Latina for the first time in her life.
She also mentioned a communication gap as a reason international students may not be members of student organizations. Sortori-Cortina said her student welcome was very logistics–oriented and less focused on how to get involved on campus.
Yenikalayci said Westminster relies on Greek Life to survive. As a private institution, unlike MU, Westminster gets no state funding and must depend almost solely on alumni donations. With an established Greek community, fraternity members in particular make up a huge portion of these alumni.
There is a seemingly higher percentage of international student involvement in fraternities at Westminster than at MU. While this data is not recorded by either institute, Yenikalayci estimated that around 10% of international men he knew were in a fraternity.
According to data taken from Westminster and MU's Common Data Set for 2013-2014, there is a larger percentage of men and women involved in a Greek organization among the general student population than at Mizzou. This could account for more international student involvement as well.
It's difficult to find even one international member of Greek Life on MU's campus.
While Westminster has no international women involved in Greek Life, sororities are also a minority on campus. None have a house, as Westminster became co-educational long after its fraternities had been established.
As Sirtori-Cortina said, MU has a long way to come in integrating the international and Greek communities. There's still an "iron curtain" of sorts on both campuses.
Here is a 3D panoramic look at part of MU's expansive Greek Town.
Campus to campus, here too we find a deep divide. Both schools provide different types of educational experiences for both international and domestic students.
Take a look at some of the other stark differences:
MU and Westminster are only 24.1 miles away. Because of Missouri's winding county roads, the drive takes about 40 minutes. Here, you can see the route and maps/photos of each campus.
When it comes to education, differences between MU and Westminster become even more stark, especially for international students.
There are various pros and cons to small and large classrooms and at times, these aspects affect international students at greater lengths.
This not only divides the MU and Westminster campuses, but creates a "iron curtain" of sorts between international and domestic students at their respective campuses.
International students are breaking through these divisions all the time though, by working to shape unique identities (academic or otherwise) for themselves in the United States.
Higher-education institutions nationwide can work harder to educate international students about getting involved on campuses.
Coming to a different country altogether, international students inherently experience education differently than domestic students, but they also face many of the same struggles to adjust.
On top of schooling and community pressures, international students face balancing ethnic and cultural identities with college identities.
The divide is there. It's present in every aspect of international student life; however, just as our story starts with a wall, it ends the same.
Students and faculty alike are constantly working to improve the relationships, experiences and education of international students at MU and Westminster both.
In this way, "Breakthrough" at Westminster is a symbol not just of Churchill's "iron curtain" across Europe, but of improving life on our own shores and in our own ways.
Westminster and MU are continuing to break through the divides international students face on a daily basis, but parts of the wall are still standing.
- Infographics made using Piktochart.com
- All data taken from Common Data Sets published for both schools for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015
- Photos of Westminster classroom and lecture hall in audio slideshow taken by Shrijan Amatya