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Dorm Life Goes Global

Parkside combines college living and international learning.

Dorm Life Goes Global

On the third floor of the International Residential College at Parkside, three young women—freshman-year suitemates—are in their rooms, with the doors opened, studying for their finals. At first glance, their suite is much like others you would find in an American university—books and papers strewn across the floor, bunk beds, microwave ovens. But there is something very different about this living experience.

There are eight women who live in this suite: two are Indians born and raised in Thailand, three are from the United States, one is from Brazil, one is from the Dominican Republic and one is from Hong Kong. The three from the U.S. are African American, Korean American and Chinese American. Dipika Ratnaphat, a third-generation Indian Thai, is giving a tour of her suite, comparing Parkside to the international school she attended in Bangkok.

At Parkside, American and international students and faculty live together, eat together, speak each others’ languages and learn about each others’ religions and cultures. There are 680 students who live in the residential college, and over 25 percent are from other countries.

Ratnaphat, a USC College student majoring in Chinese (she is already fluent in Thai, Hindi, Punjabi and Spanish) and journalism, says that being so far away from home is a lot easier when there are so many others in the same boat. She spent her first Thanksgiving with other international students in the dining hall at Parkside, where she said she had the annual holiday turkey dinner … for the first time in America.

Global Living

Based on the British system of residential colleges—where faculty and students reside together on campus—Parkside opened in January 2002. There are currently three other residential colleges on campus—Birnkrant, North and New—but Parkside is the only one that has an overriding academic theme: to promote internationalization.

“We’re not just international students or majors,” says Dan Tauss, Parkside’s Area Director and USC College graduate student in International Relations. “But we get the students interested in internationalization in some way.”

Each year, resident advisors (RAs) decorate their floors to represent a different country. A central lounge on the third floor of the suites has a closet, which when opened, reveals a washing station for religious ceremonies, such as Ramadan. The top floor of the Parkside Apartments, where residents have their own kitchens, has a Muslim theme on the north end and a Jewish theme on the south end.

The Collaborative Learning Center, a large study space on the first floor of the suites, holds vitrines of artifacts—wood carvings, instruments, fabrics—from around the world, donated by USC College alum Helen Donegan. Each week, international language groups, led by a fluent speaker, are held in the common room for those who want to practice their conversation skills.

The groups are offered in Chinese, Vietnamese, French, Korean, Spanish, Turkish, Japanese, Taiwanese, Farsi, Arabic and Russian.

A Real Influence

USC University Professor Michael Waterman, USC Associates Chair in Natural Sciences, is in his second year as Faculty Master at Parkside. “One of the goals,” he explains, “is to form a community that includes the students and the faculty.”

On Tuesday nights, he holds a Masters Dinner in the Senior Commons Room. A door that is attached to the cafeteria is opened up so that students can go and get their dinners, and come sit on the chairs and couches in the Commons Room to hear a presentation. “The topics vary from politics to art to climate change to films,” Waterman says.

On Wednesday evenings, he hosts a small dinner—limited to 12—of Parkside residents. “I drive off campus and bring some ethnic food for the dinner: Thai, Cuban, Oaxacan, Italian,” he details. “Students help me set the table, serve the food and clean up after. It is an opportunity for me to interact more closely with the students and I have greatly enjoyed these evenings.”

David Schwartz, a professor of genetics and chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, was recently a guest at one of these dinners. He was moved by the openness and intimacy of the conversation. “I truly believe that these dinners that Professor Waterman is hosting do change a student’s perception of their place at the university in many wonderfully positive ways,” Schwartz wrote. “I wish I had such opportunity when I was a college student.”

Other USC College professors live at Parkside: Stephen Toulmin, professor of anthropology, is a senior faculty resident; Ricardo Ramirez, assistant professor of political science and American Studies & Ethnicity, and Mitch Earleywine, associate professor of psychology, live in the suites with their families.

The Best Place To Live

Nitin Sharma, from Ludhiana, India, has been an RA at Parkside for three years. He is explaining two programs at the dorm: Reel World Dinners and Reel L.A. The Reel World dinners occur several times a semester and focus on a different culture each time, with speakers, films, and food. Reel L.A. is an annual springtime documentary-making competition, where students are given cameras and sent to an ethnic neighborhood in Los Angeles to film and edit their projects on Saturday, to be screened and judged on Sunday night.

“Others see this as the best dorm on campus,” says Sharma, a senior majoring in economics and math, and computer science. “One of the reasons is that it’s the nicest place to live.”

“I feel very lucky,” he says of his experience at Parkside, “I’ve had so many advantages—the types of people I’ve had the opportunity to interact with. Different passions, different backgrounds and international interests. The ways in which I’ve gotten to know a good number of faculty who either live here or are associated with Parkside, or come here to lecture. I’ve really benefited,” he says happily. “It’s really added to my educational experience.”