Avinash Palaparthy, a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, junior majoring in civil engineering, was born in Botswana to parents who had moved from India in the early 1990s. Palaparthy played forward and center on the basketball team at Maru-A-Pula school in Gabarone, Botswana. He came to UT because of the big-time football and basketball programs and so he could be near his brother who lives in Middle Tennessee. Palaparthy has found his place on campus by working as a student assistant at UT’s International House and playing intramural basketball and soccer.
“I love UT,” he says. “The sporting events. My professors. And the campus is beautiful.” Palaparthy’s career goal is to build environmentally friendly buildings and bridges.
Scott Cantrell is director of international support services, one of many groups and resources in UT’s Center for Global Engagement that focus on welcoming foreign students. The most visible is the International House, on Melrose Avenue across from John C. Hodges Library, which serves as a resource for social activities and programs. “It’s a home away from home,” says Cantrell, “and a place to find a friendly face.”
“The International House is still a social space, even with social distancing,” says Hollyann Larson, a graduate assistant with the Center for Global Engagement. “We’re open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays. We’ve adjusted spaces so everyone can be six feet apart. All visitors wear a mask. And our free coffee and tea is served by student workers.”
Regular Wednesday afternoon coffeehouses will begin in September, with visitors filing through one at a time to get their beverage then meeting outside or in a large room. “We’ve got a lot of little rooms,” says Cantrell. “We’re turning those into study rooms. There are several larger rooms that can accommodate eight or 10 people with safe social distancing.”
The International House hosted a customized orientation for international students that combined online and in-person sessions. Trivia Night on August 14 was fully online.
“We are having small hybrid events in our building,” says Larsen. “We had a movie night showing the French film My Life as a Zucchini with Zoom links.” Language practices, in which small groups practice speaking various languages, will continue, with an online option.
The International Festival is usually held on Johnson-Ward Pedestrian Walkway at the end of September. “We’re not canceling,” says Cantrell, “but we have to figure out a different format. We’re working with the Office of Student Life to look at options.”
“UT values its international students,” says Gretchen Neisler, vice provost for international affairs and director of the Center for Global Engagement. “In all, we have students from 99 countries. International student groups like the Chinese Student and Scholars Association and the newly formed Vietnamese Student Association are even more active than before. The Center for Global Engagement’s English Language Institute provides an opportunity to improve their language skills. We encourage our alumni to send a postcard to our international students through our online portal. Our goal in all our programs is to offer a warm welcome and let them know we care about them. It is very important to the CGE team that we establish a connection to our students to keep communication strong and maintain an understanding of their needs and their experience on campus.”