We have been welcoming international students to our university since 1947, and, with 108 countries represented this year, SIU truly is a window to the world.

One of our longstanding annual traditions is the always entertaining and educational International Festival, which takes place next week. This is a great opportunity to experience different cultures, and you can find the schedule of events on our website at http://news.siu.edu/fliersrow.html.

This year, 119 African students from 26 countries are studying on our campus, including Gloria Pindi Nziba, who is one of six students from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Gloria expects to earn her doctorate in speech communication in 2014.

Since she arrived in the U.S. five years ago, hers has been a journey of discovery.

Gloria earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Catholic University of Congo. It was during her graduate school work that she applied for a Fulbright Scholarship, which encourages cultural exchange among countries, to pursue her dream of becoming a professor.

Attending college in Congo, much less applying for the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, is a significant challenge for women. As Gloria points out, it is a very male-dominated society. She was the first woman from Catholic University to get a Fulbright, and the only woman among five candidates in Congo to earn the honor.

Fulbright scholars must be fluent in English. Gloria’s native language is French, so her first stop was DePaul University in Chicago for seven months of intensive English training. For someone whose country sits on the equator and has two seasons, rainy and dry, arriving in Chicago in January 2008 was a rude awakening.

She then enrolled in San Diego State University, where she encountered more surprises.

“When I took my first seminar with American students, all of their eyes were on me when I spoke. In my country, we don’t make eye contact, especially as a woman. So, after class, I went to my teacher and I was crying, and I said, ‘I’m not an alien. Why were they all looking at me?’ He explained that Americans like to make eye contact.”

She also learned that we Americans like to hug. In Gloria’s culture, that is considered too intimate. Interacting with strangers also is very rare.

“In the American culture, strangers greet you on the street and smile at you every time,” Gloria said. “People here are so friendly.”

Gloria earned a master’s degree in communication studies from San Diego State in 2010, arriving here later that year.

“I love what I am doing. I want to embrace an academic career, and I knew I needed a doctorate,” she said. “SIU was one of my top choices because, especially in performance studies, it is among the top five in the country.”

Gloria loves SIU and Carbondale and the many opportunities she has to pursue her dreams. Though she comes from a country devastated by civil war since 1997, Gloria is an optimist and is passionate about helping others. She is devoted to her studies and to promoting women’s rights, and plans to focus on social justice as a teacher.

We are fortunate Gloria chose SIU. She is helping to broaden our horizons.

RITA CHENG is chancellor of SIU Carbondale. Her column appears weekly in Southern Plus.

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