As a junior biology major from Hong Kong, Li Kawang remembers being not only a fresh college student, but a new resident of the United States. Events such as the cookout Sunday at Western Kentucky University were important to him, he said.

“It is vital,” he said. “If you don’t know anything, you’re just going to lock yourself in your room and play computer games.”

For the first time, the International Club at WKU hosted its Multicultural Eat-and-Greet – a cookout Sunday for everyone on campus that allows international students to mingle with other students, staff and faculty. The event was co-sponsored by the Office of International Student and Scholar Services, the Office of Diversity and the Zeta Phi Beta sorority.

“It’s about diversity. For as much as we are different, we still have our similarities,” said Jackie Pillow, assistant director of programs and outreach for the WKU Office of Diversity. “It’s important that we reach out to those different than us and realize we have more in common than we realize.”

On Sunday, students from various backgrounds gathered at Centennial Mall, where they chatted, played corn hole, signed up for clubs and activities and munched on grilled food.

“You can’t beat getting free food and meeting new people,” said Mazden Ng, a sophomore from Owensboro.

About 650 international students attend WKU – a number that has grown over the years, said Tarek Elshayeb, director of the WKU Office of International Student and Scholar Services.

Elshayeb attributes that growth to the academic programs offered at WKU, as well as a welcoming community. International students contribute about $12 million a year to the local economy, he said, by purchasing tuition, housing, food, health care and other services.

Still, moving to a new country – especially as a young adult – is challenging, he said.

“The adaptation not only to WKU, but to the U.S. in general, is not an easy task,” he said.

For that reason, events such as Sunday’s cookout are essential to the international student population at WKU, Elshayeb said.

“International students add a lot to our campus,” he said.

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