For a group of UA Little Rock international students, the best table in town isn’t found at a fancy restaurant downtown.
Instead, the best food and conversation can be found inside the Campus Wellness Center, where this small group of friends comes together every Friday in fellowship to share their weekly adventures.
Ranjitha Hari, who is earning a doctorate in physics, started attending this informal Friday lunch club after meeting Campus Wellness Coordinator Karl Lenser during her first semester on campus.
“Karl is the backbone behind this group,” Hari said. “He has met international students at different campus events, and he thought we would enjoy meeting for lunch every Friday. We cook different foods, and we talk about our different cultures. The conversations help us to improve our communication skills in English. The group has also helped me make friends. It’s good stress relief after a long week. We talk about different things, play cards, and enjoy food from around the world.”
Beginning last semester, anywhere from five to 15 international students from India, Iraq, Pakistan, Ukraine, Moldova, Nepal, Nigeria, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Bangladesh meet for lunch every Friday. The members range in age from 6-month-old Ameera Alzaid, the daughter of lunch club members Wejdan Alhamad and Mohammed Alzaid from Saudia Arabia, to Lenser, who considers himself the “grandpa of the group” at 60.
“This is the best restaurant in Little Rock,” Lenser joked. “Where else will you get food from four or five countries in one location? This is social wellness at its finest. There is definitely a family atmosphere at these lunches.We learn words and phrases from a variety of languages from the various countries that are represented at the lunches. We discuss the differences in our cultures and enjoy hearing stories from a variety of topics including dating, arranged marriages, politics, religion, weddings, and education. The lunch gatherings promote social wellness and are very educational and fun.”
Most members also appreciate the chance to build a sense of family and community while they are living far away from their homes.
“I just met an international student earlier this week, and she didn’t know anyone,” said Shubham Ghorpade, a graduate student in construction management from India. “It’s like a family here. For others who are alone, it’s important for them to socialize.”
Muize Lemboye, a mass communication graduate student from Nigeria, enjoys the bond that he has formed with other lunch club members.
“My favorite part of lunch, I will not lie, is the food,” Lemboye said. “I am a foodie, and I also love learning about new cultures. I love to talk to people, and this group will laugh at my jokes, even if they are not funny. It’s nice to have a community like that.”