Molly Joyce, Contributor
The sound of friendly chatter spilled out from the North Pod of the Memorial Union at 4 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 2 as the International Student Association (ISA) prepared for the first of its weekly coffee hours. Newcomers, as well as veterans, intermingled as the event began. Tables in the North Pod filled, and conversations were held over plates of food and cups of coffee.
International Coffee Hour is held every Friday from 4-5 p.m. in the North Pod of the Memorial Union in both the fall and spring semesters, and serves as a place for students, both international and domestic, to mingle and enjoy free refreshments provided by the ISA.
“I think it’s the cheapest way to travel to a lot of places,” India native Prateek Kunwar, who is pursuing his masters degree in mathematics at the University of Maine, says. “There’s free food, too.”
Kunwar was drawn to coffee hour by “the fact that you meet so many people here from different countries.” The diversity present at coffee hour allows for students such a Kunwar to feel more at home surrounded by those who are also adjusting to a new culture and lifestyle.
“There are a lot of people here for whom the scenario was very similar, so I can make connections with them based on that,” Kunwar says.
“It’s like a social gathering for international students, for local students, for people who are new on campus, and for people who have been here for a long time,” ISA president and Bangor native Antonia Carroll said. “It’s a really good chance for students to just socialize and meet new people.”
Carroll, a fourth-year student studying international affairs and chemistry, studied abroad in Japan two years ago. “I was supposed to spend one semester abroad but ended up spending three semesters abroad,” Carroll says. “When I came back I had found that a lot of my friends had graduated already, but having studied abroad I was kind of a part of the international office, and I got really close with a lot of the international students.” From this connection with the international office, Carroll subsequently joined the International Coffee Hour and the ISA, and began spending much time at the multicultural lounge.
“I just loved it so much,” Carroll said. “I loved the people. It was like a new home for me after being away for so long.”
Despite the coffee hour being held as a meeting place for international students, the ISA highly encourages others to participate as well. “For students who have been here for a long time or are from the area, it’s a good chance for them to meet people from other cultures,” Carroll said.
Each week, the coffee hour is hosted by another group on campus. “Every week we have a different group host. Next week INK [Iota Nu Kappa] is hosting, which is a multicultural fraternity,” Carroll said. In the past, the coffee hour has also been hosted by Amnesty International, African Student Association, and several other academic groups.
“It’s a change for other groups to get their name out there, and for students who haven’t heard of those groups to maybe get more involved on campus,” Carroll said.
Bangladesh native Mushira Habib, a recent graduate of the English Department from UMaine and current adjunct professor, has been attending the coffee hour almost every week for the past five semesters. “The first time I saw coffee hour, I wasn’t aware of it, but I saw a lot of people from different background in one space,” Habib said. “I’ve met more people and made more friends during the coffee hour, and also because it’s a regular thing, so at the end of a very tiring week, Friday afternoon getting to spend time with people.”
Because the coffee hour is held every week, it allows the students to meet regularly and build on those connections that are made every week. “I wanted to join it because I had faced a lot of difficulty in my first semester, and I just wanted to be one person who tries to help the new students who may have face something similar.”
The ISA highly encourages both international and non-international students to participate in the coffee hour as a way to connect with those from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds, as well as learn about other organizations on campus.
As a veteran of the coffee hour, Kunwar believes in this heavily. “Going from one table to another is like going across continents.”