Indiana State University Newsroom

International students teach lessons to Terre Haute residents

November 26, 2012

The Terre Haute residents were only a few minutes into the introductory film about Pakistan when they began to learn some of the ways the country is falsely depicted in American media.

As the short video ended, the Indiana State University international student-turned-teacher standing at the front of the room ensured the audience that the lessons were just beginning.

International students at ISU partnered with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) to provide lessons about countries around the world. In the presentations, an international student gave an overview about his or her home country before answering questions from class participants who are OLLI members. Students also spoke about their own experiences, many of which broke common stereotypes or assumptions that audience members had.

"They were very surprised that we are a liberal country, and women work in every field," said Farzana Shaheen, the ISU student who led the OLLI group in a presentation and discussions about Pakistan. "... After my presentation and the video that I showed them, they were totally changed and they were impressed about my religion and my country."

Shaheen is one of more than a half-dozen international students who gave the presentations as part of an OLLI course for Terre Haute residents who are not enrolled in college classes at Indiana State. She answered the group's questions about life in Pakistan, which is frequently depicted inaccurately in American media.

"We learned more about Pakistan instead of the stereotypes," OLLI program administrator Michelle Bennett said. "That's what we really want people to get out of our class, is to look beyond what you see on TV all the time and the stereotypes that we all have to look at them as individuals and see them from that personal angle."

Bennett approached Zachariah Mathew, associate director of the ISU Office of International Programs and Services, about having students give presentations about their home countries and cultures. In the initial presentations, students talked about their home nations. The OLLI participants told Bennett that they wanted to learn more, prompting Bennett and Mathew to change plans so that students would give the country overviews, along with a discussion to answer questions people had about life in a different part of the world.

The number of lessons expanded from four to eight to accommodate the students' experiences.

"Everyone who has taken this class has walked away loving the experience they've had with the students and feel as if they had learned about another culture," Bennett said. "They've learned things that they never knew and all the preconceptions that they maybe had weren't exactly correct, which is the whole point why we want to do the class."

ISU doctoral student Sowmya Challa, who also earned her MBA from Indiana State, helped give a presentation about India. She was surprised at the level of depth of the questions posed to her and another ISU student, Hemadeep Kambhampati, who gave the presentation about their home nation.

"We were assuming that people would be interested," Challa said, "but when we saw the curiosity level, and the intricacy of the questions they were asking, they were really into it."

During the discussions, students spoke about some personal experiences. While many people in the community have been welcoming and accepting of the students, Bennett that one OLLI member in particular was surprised to learn how several international students had been discriminated against because of where they are from.

"We don't think that it's as bad as it is," Bennett said of prejudice, "until you talk to somebody who's actually bumped right up against it."

Terre Haute resident and OLLI member Rebecca Graves enjoyed the presentations, as she learned more about several countries and how the nuances she noticed through media portrayals were not accurate.

The presentations "gave another dimension of what the country and people were about," she added.

The ISU Office of International Programs and Services organizes a variety of educational programming at Indiana State and in the community. While office members were satisfied with the initial plans, Mathew was pleased to see the added session that allowed Terre Haute residents to learn more through directly speaking with international students about growing up in countries around the world.

"It did serve some purpose, but we need to make an impact on what we really do," Mathew said of the initial plans for the course. "I think it really is the individual who makes a difference, and that's what happens with the storytelling."

Photo: (ISU/Jamil Buchanan)Indiana State University student Farzana Shaheen, left, talks with Zachariah Mathew, associate director of the ISU Office of International Programs and Services, during a presentation to Terre Haute residents who were students in an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute program. International students at ISU partnered with OLLI to teach local residents more about their experiences from living around the world.

Contact: Michelle Bennett, program administrator, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Indiana State University, 812.237.2336 or; Zachariah Mathew, associate director, Office of International Programs and Services, Indiana State University, 812-237-2439 or

Writer: Austin Arceo, assistant director of media relations, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or

Story Highlights

International students at ISU partnered with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) to provide lessons about countries around the world. Student gave overviews about their home countries before answering questions from OLLI members.

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