International Students Explore Decatur

Page Shields, Writer

Millikin’s International Student Organization is encouraging its newest members to break out of the campus bubble and embrace the opportunities in the town of Decatur.

On September 2nd, ISO president Kentina Ishimwe and her fellow board members led international student members on a trip downtown. Knowing that Millikin students, and Millikin international students in particular, often aren’t aware of the local businesses in the area, their team decided a group trip would make for the perfect introduction to the town. “We want them to immerse themselves in the Decatur community,” she says.

Students gathered in front of the University Commons in order to travel together to their downtown destination. Provided transportation, in the form of two hired Millivans, made the trip accessible to students without vehicles. No charge was required for members.

Once the vans had parked in front of the Blue Connection art gallery, students were encouraged to explore Millikin senior Syd Wilson’s art show hosted that same evening. All were free to enjoy the exhibit (and the gallery-provided snacks and drinks) before checking out some local eateries—their first time doing so, for many of the students. It’s definitely not the last, though: “There’s something going on every first Friday of the month,” says Ishimwe.

Ishimwe herself is originally from Burundi, an East African country, and has been a part of ISO since she arrived in Decatur more than two years ago. “Basically, when they first arrive—the international students—they’re automatically members of ISO,” she says. The organization provides a sort of home base for these students, a community of supporters who understand the trials of an international education and are excited to be at Millikin.

One of these enthusiastic students is Judith Llobera, an English major from Spain who was looking forward to the trip itself much more than the idea of going to an art gallery. When she arrived, however, her expectations shifted—Llobera found one of Syd’s pieces, entitled “What do you see?”, incredibly moving. “I remember walking through the room and just suddenly stopping in front of it,” she says. Llobera was also able to speak with Syd themself about the meaning of the piece, an opportunity that made them value the experience even more. “They showed me the piece more closely, pointing out details I hadn’t even noticed,” she says.

After leaving the gallery, Llobera found herself enjoying Doherty’s Pubs and Pins, a popular Irish pub in the area. It was her first time in a sit-down American restaurant, and she calls it a “great experience.” Her time at Doherty’s was very different from eating out back in Spain, though: “I was extremely shocked by the fact that we had to sign our checks, as this never happens in my home country,” she says.

Students explored a variety of other local favorites, as well, including slices of pie from Coney McKane’s American Eatery, popcorn from Del’s, and of course, free snacks from the gallery.

Through involvement in these parts of our community, ISO is working hard to ensure that international students have a home in our little Decatur campus. And occurring to Llobera, they are succeeding. “I honestly love ISO,” she says. “It’s been a month and Millikin already feels like home!”

Students interested in getting involved with ISO can visit advisor Athena Pajer in the Center for International Education with any questions.