In mid October The Copenhagen University Library held it’s third Library Candle Light Dinner for international students and there mentors at the university. It’s the story about how the library can be used as platform for better integration of international students in academic as well as civil society.
The problem with international students
It can be a damn hard job to be an international student. Not only are you a student (which implies loads of reading, exams, expectations and hardly no money) but you are a student in a foreign country with a different culture and have to deal with a new city, new people, new university and often a new language. I strongly believe that international students (as well as international faculty members) are important for the diversity and development in higher education and being well integrated they are bringing valuable input to campus on both studies, learning, science and culture.
But in Copenhagen and many other cities the fact is that they don’t get well integrated: they quickly make small ghettos of international students, hang out in the same bars, playing table football and leave the city and university without giving that much of the diversity that is important for higher education. Why is that? It’s hard to pinpoint one reason but if the university and academic environment is closed around itself it certainly doesn’t help.
To make sure that international students get’s better integrated The University of Copenhagen has established a mentor/mentee program were new international students (mentees) get hooked up with mentors (danish students or international students who have lived in Copenhagen for a while). The mentor/mentee partnership makes sure that the new international quickly gets established a local network which is important in both integrational, social and pracitical sense.
It’s a good program and the library has a part in it; It involves (fake) candles and library cake.
The Library Candle Light Dinner
In the beginning of 2014 I got contacted by Jacob Ørum who is director at Studenterhuset (‘The Student’s House’ – a great meeting place for students in Copenhagen across subjects and faculties). Jacob wanted to talk about how we could join forces in making some activities that would serve as platform for better integration of international students. We came up with the concept of ‘The Library Candle Light Dinner‘.
The concept is simple: It’s a candle light dinner at the library for new international students and there mentors. The purpose is simply to create a welcoming space for them to meet earth other and have a good time and by that make a steppingstone for further tie up the connection between mentees and mentors – between new international students and the university and country.
The Candle Light Dinner itself is a piñata of good stuff. The event holds 120 mentees and mentors and there is always a welcome speech (by yours truly), fake candles on the tables (it’s a library you know), a great dinner, music and the world famous “Welcome to Copenhagen” Cake. Besides that we always have a bit of extra for the evening, e.g. some live music, a DJ set, a quiz or something like that. But the most important thing is that they have the time to talk to each other and have a good time. It’s held two times each year – one on each semester. Oh, and like most things at the library it’s free of charge.
Two international students from China getting a slice of the library cake with there home countries flag
It can be hard to measure the actually effect concerning integration but all three events has been a massive success when it comes to participation (all three events has been filled up in no time), the evenings has been carried out in a buzzing and chatting atmosphere which was just awesome to experience. People were talking to each other and that’s basically the whole point. The responses from both international students and mentors has been great: they are really thrilled that The Library and Studenterhuset is putting up such an event, just for them, so there has been an unseen payoff on library kudos in that context. But most importantly they told us that they had a good time with there mentors and that is what counts.
The world is a book (but the library is not only about books)
“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page”
I’ve quoted St. Augustine in all my welcome speeches. It’s a great quote that holds a truth about how traveling, meeting other people and cultures expands you view on the world and it’s one of the reasons I really like to work with international students: they have broken out of there comfort zone, left home and is embracing the world and that just brings good things to campus.
That is also way I believe it’s important that the academic library get’s involved with the community of international students and in collaboration with the university and relevant parties pinpoint how they can support integration and well being of this very segment of students. A Candle Light Dinner
The academic library is not just about books, journals and places to study. It’s also about supporting higher education when it comes to diversity and the well being of all kinds of students. Finding activities that supports integration is one way and the Library Candle Light Dinner is a fairly easy – and fun! – concept.
The fine art of collaboration
A final note on the importance of collaboration with different types of people.
The collaboration between Copenhagen University Library and Studenterhuset on this matter is both obvious and valuable: We both have a major shared interest in the international students and they are both places for all students across subjects and level of academia. Besides this we complement each other great: The Library has good locations and funding’s for setting it up and Studenterhuset has great expertise in doing big events and getting it all together with sound systems, catering, DJ’s, live band’s ect. Hands up for Stine Agerbæk and her crew from Studenterhuset who have been rocking these events with us.
And the cake? Made in-house and got librarian all written over it 🙂
I will post the recipe soon. Cheers