The BEARchats Program: Celebrating Diversity, Friendship, & Fun
Did you know that UC has over 2400 international students from 112 countries across the world? Would you like to get to know some of them? If so, it’s time to take a look at the BEARchats program, run through the Ethnic Programs & Services (EPS) Office. BEARchats is a cultural exchange program that pairs a domestic student with an international student. It combines diversity, friendship and learning into a partnership with a student from a different background than yours. Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun.
Anang Dahdich, a second year aerospace engineering master's student, helps coordinate the BEARchats program through EPS. "We started this program so people could enjoy the diversity on campus and learn about different cultures from each other," he says. "Our main purpose is to help people get to know each other and learn about who they're sharing the campus with."
BEARchats has a relatively simple concept; interested students apply to the program, get accepted, and are paired with either a domestic or international student. The pairs then spend at least an hour a week together, doing anything from having coffee to seeing movies to attending events together. This relatively simple concept, however, has had exceptional results in the short time it has been a part of EPS. From the start of October until the end of the fall semester, the program grew from about 30 students to 82. There's even a wait list of 37 international students who don't have anyone to be paired with at this moment.
The participants in the BEARchats program come from all over the world. While about 40 of the students are from the United States, the other 70 (both in the program and on the wait list) are from places like Sweden, China, India, Africa and even Australia. BEARchats recruits international students from all over the world, and they accept almost all interested students. Some are undergraduate students, others are graduate students; all of them are interesting, fun people who want to get to know someone from another culture.
The BEARchats program has been a great success so far. During the fall semester, the program gave students access to various events. Students went to Country Pumpkins (a fall-themed farm outing), they hosted a table of food from their home countries at International Taste, they shopped at Kenwood mall for winter clothing, and they even spent one night playing free unlimited laser tag during finals week. This semester's event schedule will be different, but it will still be jam packed with fun. "We are planning to have more outside events, like maybe taking [our students] skiing," said Anang. "Most of the international students come from warm places so they haven't seen snow before. They are very excited about skiing."
In the future, Anang hopes to help the program grow as large as it can. He wants everyone that's interested to know about it so that they can experience the benefits of cultural exchange. He also wants to take this cultural exchange to the next level. "We are thinking of having a weekly meeting for all of the BEARchats pairs," said Anang. "That way, they can all come together and meet other pairs." The BEARchats pairs would then have the opportunity to become more of a community of like-minded people rather than a loose collection of friendships. There is great potential for this program to bring groups together that may not have otherwise met.
At the end of January, BEARchats will host an orientation session, where newly accepted students will meet their partner for the semester. If you want to apply, all you have to do is email Anang at firstname.lastname@example.org so that he can send you an application form. Don't worry, you don't need to be proficient in a foreign language; you just have to want to make a new friend who comes from a different background than you do.
Written by Hillary Oberpeul, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate School Office