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Town and gown effort welcomes international students to community

by on April 05, 2018 9:05 AM

When Shams Alyahya decided to come to Penn State to study from Saudia Arabia, she said her parents were a little concerned. Besides the typical worries about their daughter traveling across the world, Alyahya said her parents were concerned that she may not be very welcome in America with the current political climate.

But, she said they are feeling much better after they saw the banner featuring a photo of her that has been hung around State College. It has a simple message: “You are welcome here.” 

“It is awesome. My parents feel so much better and it makes me feel good that people want to welcome me and other international students here in the town,” said Alyahya. “When I showed my parents a picture of the banner, it made them feel like it is more inclusive and that everybody cares, so they feel so much better.”

Alyahya and other international students are shown on the banners, which were a collaboration between State College Borough and the Penn State University Park Undergraduate Association. They were designed to encourage diversity and make international students feel welcome in town, said borough communication specialist Douglas Shonts. Many of the 90 banners were hung before an April 2 ceremony at the State College Municipal Building that was attended by many of the students who were featured on the banners.

State College Mayor Don Hahn thought back to his parents, who were Korean immigrants, when saying how important it is to welcome international students to the community.

“These are wonderful banners that add to the festive atmosphere of an already vibrant downtown,” said Hahn. “State College reaffirms the importance of diversity and tolerance and understanding among races, nationalities and religions, as well as sexual orientations and ideologies.”

Hahn said State College is committed to making people feel welcome in the community and embraces those of different backgrounds.
“Our destiny is not to hide behind a wall to feel safe. Our destiny is to build a better world together, to be a part of that world and share that world with others,” said Hahn.

Other international students featured on the banners include: Shreyash Manak Bohara, of India; Isabel Bejarano Diez, of Colombia; Qifeng Liu, of China; Harmonie K. Ngamuyeka, of Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Charles Drury, of Sweden. The banners will be up until the end of summer, if not longer, said Shonts.

The students said they were glad to be a part of the process and got a kick out of seeing their pictures hanging downtown.
“I screamed when I first saw it," said Bohara.

Drury said he received a lot of Instagram likes when he posted his photo online. Both students agreed they hope their pictures on banners can make people feel more welcome in State College, which is something Alyahya thinks will happen when people walk by them.

“I think that everyone who passes by will feel better and that they are a part of this community, especially with things that have happened lately," she said. "I think that if we all come together, we can do better and do greater things together, and this is an example of that.”

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