When students in the Northwest Community College Initiative (NWCCI) program become friends with American students, an organic cultural exchange occurs that can change the lives of those involved. Tabatha Spegal lived at Rainier Place at Edmonds Community College (EdCC) this past year with two NWCCI students, Amreen Mushtaq from India and Fransiska Palmasari from Indonesia. EdCC Advisor, Kim Kraft, interviewed Tabby about some of the impacts that her friendship with NWCCI students has had on her.
Tabatha, or Tabby as most people call her, is a current student at EdCC pursuing an Associate of Arts. She was born and raised in Port Townsend, Washington, a small touristy town with a large boating community. She says she came to EdCC for two reasons, “One, I wanted to get away from secluded Port Townsend. Two, because I wanted to live in dorms and this is the only Community College in the Seattle area that offers them.” Her future goals include transferring to a four-year college and participating in an exchange program.
Tabby says that she had no experience with international students before she met Amreen and Fransiska, “In fact, I didn’t even know how many international students stay in the dorms at EdCC. I figured they’d mostly be American. When I found out I’d be living with international students, I was a little nervous but mostly excited to get to experience different cultures.”
When asked what she learned from the NWCCI students, Tabby’s list includes making Chai and gaining new perspectives on world religions, politics, stereotypes, and art.
“My perspectives have most definitely changed. I never really thought of myself as a well-off or rich person but, to them, I was. They were all impressed with all the cooking utensils I owned. When I went to IKEA with Amreen and Ignacio, they were almost like children in a candy store. To me, it seemed pretty normal to have all those things. I’ve never been out of the United States so it was interesting to see the differences between me and international students. I’ve always loved the idea of traveling and before I met all of them, I wanted to go to Rome. Now I see myself going to India or South Africa. Maybe Kenya or Brazil. Who am I kidding? I want to go see all of my NWCCI friends in each of their countries. I would have never imagined how much they would have impacted me but they really have,” she adds.
Tabby shared a few more memories about her interactions with the NWCCI students: Raj’s ability to make Chai and never have the pot to overflow despite not keeping a close eye on it; Ignacio visiting the apartment and staying up until 2 a.m. to do his homework, deferring to Tabby as an “expert” on everything American; Kaloosya’s knack for making anyone smile, no matter how sad they are; making chocolate chip cookies with Claudia; and a wild goose-chase to two different malls with Claudia and Amreen in search of Swarovski crystals only to find out that none of the local stores carried the items they were looking for, “One might think that sounds like a terrible day but to me, it was great. I got to spend time with two wonderful people who I will never forget,” Tabby explains.
Tabby says she is honored and blessed for having met the NWCCI students, “They will forever be friends of mine, whether I see them again or not. I think this program is amazing and extraordinary. I got to be able to meet people from around the world and not have to travel further than one door over. How many people can say that? Not many. The only regret I have, is not meeting them all sooner. The time went by too quickly.”
The NWCCI program is part of the Community College Initiative, an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.