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A Town Called Athens: Foreign students enrich Athens culture

So I’ve talked about local issues, local history, local events. But imagine coming to Ohio University and not knowing anything about local issues, not because you’re new to Athens, but because you’re new to the United States. I am referring to international students.

We all know the stereotypes of international students in Athens.

They drive the nice cars or live in the expensive housing at The Summit at Coates Run. But there is much more to these individuals than those homegrown stereotypes.

First off, international students bring a unique culture to Athens that Southeastern Ohio would otherwise not experience if it were not for OU. They offer Athenians the opportunity to experience varying international cultures without leaving Athens County.

Cultural festivals held at OU throughout the year are open to everyone and spread culture throughout students and residents. How many other towns in Southeast Ohio have an annual International Street Fair?

International students also bring money into Athens that helps stimulate the local economy. These students pay out-of-state tuition, a hefty amount of money that OU can sorely use, for an American education. OU is a highly respected university nationally and throughout the world that many are very happy to attend — something that is often forgotten in Athens.

Students from overseas also stimulate the growth of business in Athens. Local high tech businesses such as Sun Power, Global Cooling and Diagnostic Hybrids benefit from all of the international expertise. And to be more mundane, we wouldn’t be enjoying the wide range of Chinese and other restaurants here without these beneficial external influences on the local economy.

Which brings me to another point that this issue brings up. Try to imagine Athens, the county, or even the region without OU. Things would be drastically different.

The problem of having fewer cultures here would be minor compared to the other problems that would be facing the city. Athens needs OU and OU needs Athens. Let’s learn to get along.

But I digress, so I will continue by saying a substantial number of international students at OU also increases the university’s name recognition overseas.

This is key in bringing new students to Athens from outside our borders, at a time when competition for students has largely become an international game.

There are negatives to having international students in Athens, but they aren’t the fault of the students themselves. Imagine leaving Beijing or Mombasa and finding yourself in Athens, Ohio, the next day. Can you really say you wouldn’t experience culture shock?

Not only are many students experiencing the U.S. for the first time at OU, but also many cannot speak proper English. Yet there are no substantial integration programs that international students attend before beginning classes here. Most are given a brief introduction to life here and then let loose to cope with America as they see fit.  

It is my opinion that this is not enough. The university and the city should do a better job of integrating these students into our society.

International students need to be educated better concerning laws, customs and traditions in Athens and the U.S.

These students bring so much to Athens in a positive way. Can’t we give them something positive in return?

I’d like to thank Bin Cai for his help in researching and preparing this column.

Will Drabold is a junior at Athens High School enrolled in Ohio University classes and a columnist for The Post. Do you think the town should be involved with international students? Email Will at

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