Vivien-Sara Fechner’s easy leadership style and vivacious personality has helped the International Club at UALR blossom from 100 to almost 300 students — and that is just since the beginning of the 2013 fall semester.
Fechner has been a member of the club for two years and was elected president this fall.
As a newly named Donaghey Scholar at UALR, Fechner’s leadership stems from having walked many international miles in her peer’s shoes.
Fechner, a native of Berlin, Germany, first came to the United States as a high school exchange student. She enthusiastically recalls her first visit to America as finding a “great fit.” In fact, the 21-year-old still remains close to her host family to this day.
While the junior photography major holds onto the German traditions she cherishes, she also embraces learning more about other cultures.
“You travel from the other side of the world and you realize how different everything really is,” she said. “It’s not right and it’s not wrong. It’s just different.”
Striking the right balance between distinct cultures is a driving force behind Fechner’s leadership of the International Club.
Fechner said the club seeks to bridge the gap and diminish cultural divides between people who come from different backgrounds. The club serves the needs, not only of international students on campus, but of American-born students as well.
“Both have much to share and learn from each other,” she said.
International Celebration Week
One of the ways the International Club helps to foster this learning is by supporting UALR’s annual International Celebration Week. Each year, students, faculty, staff, and the greater community come together to learn about the culture of others through music, food, and educational events. This year, the celebration will be held Nov. 18-21.
“I think we all grow up thinking that the way we were raised is much the same as all people are raised,” she said. “Of course, that’s not true. But, the key is to see what you can take from those differences and grow as a person.”
International Club and Campus Community
The International Club hosts its own programs and activities as well, including off-campus events such as bowling and movie nights, weekly on-campus meetings, and serving food dishes from their home countries at “Welcome Potluck” during the university’s annual Welcome Week, “Trojan Daze.”
“I really like baklava,” Fechner said with a smile as she reflected on being introduced to the Greek sweet pastry made of layers of phyllo at the event.
In addition to social gatherings, the club also encourages information sharing among its members, stressing the importance of academics and mentoring.
In an era of globalization, Fechner said the International Club has come along at the right time. And with members from many countries from all over the globe, there is always someone or something new to learn about.
“It’s so important for us to have this group of people to refer to,” she said. “We want these cultures to mesh. Both sides can benefit. You can’t force your culture on others, but you can share freely.”
For a full listing of International Celebration Week events, go to Celebration 2013.
Interested students may also visit the International Club’s Facebook page.