Abebaye Bekele| News Editor
October 9 was declared international students and scholars’ day in Spokane by Mayor David A. Condon.
To celebrate the day, Condon held a gathering at city hall for international students enrolled in higher institutions of Spokane.
“It is an effort to connect all of the international students and scholars and welcome them to our city and be able to also allow them to meet other students that are in the area so that they know that it is not just students at Whitworth or just students at Gonzaga but we have a big community of international students and scholars,” said Gloria Ochoa-Bruck, director of multicultural affairs for the city of Spokane.
Staff, faculty and international students from Whitworth University, Gonzaga University, Eastern Washington University, community colleges of Spokane and Washington State University Spokane were all in attendance.
“We are welcoming them [international students and scholars] to Spokane we want them to also have an opportunity learn about the services the city has,” Ochoa-Bruck said.
Mayor Condon, representatives from each school and Sister Cities Association of Spokane gave speeches welcoming students and guests.
Sister Cities Association is an organization that works to build opportunities for Spokane residents by developing ties of friendship, culture, and business around the world, according to the sister cities association website.
“Back in July, the senior international officers of Whitworth, Gonzaga, Eastern, WSU Spokane and the community colleges, we got an email from the mayor saying in this sort of current climate he wanted to be sure that international students would feel welcome in Spokane and he wanted us to work on some kind of an event to make that happen,” said Sue Jackson, Director Of The International Education Center At Whitworth.
Representatives of the city of Spokane, the police department, fire department, parks and recreation, Spokane transit and Sister Cities Association of Spokane also attended the event.
“What is going on right now we really wanted specifically the students that are visiting our city to know that they are welcome here that we are very thankful they choose Spokane for their higher education and we hope they have a wonderful experience because this community is welcoming them,” Ochoa-Bruck said.
“For the city so publicly to say we are a welcoming city I think is very important especially now in these kinds of political times,” Jackson said.
Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer was among the people that attended the event
“I can’t believe we have not done this before,” Schaeffer said.
Students can meet the firefighters by going and scheduling a meeting in our fire stations that are located in every neighborhood, Schaeffer said.
“An American that was born here and grows up here sees a badge and they reference that with safety, security or justice. In other countries it may not be the same situation often times it is seen as fearful,” Schaeffer said. “What we really need to do is show our students that are coming from abroad the reality here. All the public safety is here for their protection.”
After the speeches were given students had the chance to interact with one another and representatives of institutions that were present. The mayor also took pictures with students before leaving for his council meeting.
The police were there to show students that they are friendly because that may not be the case in many parts of the world, Jackson said.
We are trying to get connected to students through the institutions they attend, Schaeffer said.
“We need to make it as easy as we can for people from other countries to be able to not just survive and thrive in our community. That is a lot more complex than a simple statement like that,” Schaeffer said.
Feedback from students is very important. It tells us what we can do for you, Schaeffer said.
Whitworth Freshman Canni Nwokorie-Vincent from Nigeria was present at the event.
“We got to talk with the mayor and dab with the mayor. We also got to witness the first international students day,” Nwokorie-Vincent said.
Sometimes I feel like we are alone here but at the event, I saw so many people from different schools and I saw that we had a community of international students here. Whitworth international students also got a chance to bond with one another, Nwokorie-Vincent said.
“One little event with food and speeches is very nice but it is not what continues to make Spokane a welcoming place for international students,” Jackson said. “People in Spokane need to know that there are international students here. Maybe that’s our job as international institutions to remind the community that we have international students here.”
One great way is inviting more people to the annual international festival Whitworth holds, Jackson said.
Different schools were also inviting us to different events, Nwokorie-Vincent said.
“That was the beginning. There will be ongoing things,” Jackson said.
Students can get involved in Spokane through different clubs and the Dornsife Center.