MBA International Student Club celebrates Thanksgiving while club creator celebrates diversity

By Mara Kaufman

Most St. Thomas students were able to spend time with their families over the recent Thanksgiving holiday, but it’s not as easy for international students to travel home and back over the four-day weekend. Instead, Kate Herzog – herself from Ghana – decided to give her fellow MBA students a home-away-from-home for the holiday by inviting them to share Thanksgiving with her family.

Such an invitation from Herzog, who lives with a constant curiosity in "anything that is not like me" and who hosted a similar event last year, comes as no surprise .

Kate Herzog

Stemming from her interest in international life, Herzog, who started in the MBA program at St. Thomas in August 2007, was awarded the Global Citizenship Award at St. Thomas’ annual International Dinner last April. The award honors members of the St. Thomas community whose personal or professional work brings the concept of global citizenship to a department, classroom, residence hall or student club. Herzog received the award for her commitment to starting the International Student Club for MBA students at St. Thomas.

In starting the club, Herzog established some clear guidelines for herself.

"What I didn’t want to do was to create another subgroup of international students," Herzog said. "I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel … . We want it so that, when you leave here, you know the Chinese man, you know the lady from Bangladesh."

Instead of advertising only to international students, Herzog sent out a mass e-mail to all of her classmates last Christmas asking who might be interested in being part of an international student group. The response she received allowed her to team one international student with one American student for each office of the club.  

Ghana map, link to government home page Ghana (in red) borders on the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa.

Despite – or perhaps because of – the interest in the club, Herzog doesn’t have an actual count for the number of students involved, saying involvement varies by activity and according to students’ availability.

"Nothing is set in stone, except that it has to be collaboration (between international and American students)," Herzog said. "I’m more of a ready, shoot, aim type of person.  I let people do with it what they want to make of it."

One struggle with which Herzog has had to deal in getting the club up and running is making sure it fits in with the busy lives of MBA students.

"We try not to fill our plate too much," Herzog said. "We come up with all these ideas to talk about, but who has the time? We have to structure it so that it fits for MBA students."

Herzog’s hope is that the club will help international students connect with and immerse themselves in American culture. While the students haven’t had much time to get into depth about their own cultures and share them with each other, there have been several outings to take advantage of, such as a cruise, potlucks, a trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Thanksgiving event, which is quickly on its way to becoming an MBA tradition, having this year involved more than 20 students.

The club also was able to bring Dr. Kwesi Nduom, a mentor of Herzog’s who studied at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee – and who was one of the candidates in the recent presidential election for the Republic of Ghana – to campus in February as its first official guest speaker. (The club is working on bringing an American who is doing or has done business abroad to speak this spring.)

Ghana flag, link to government home page Flag of Ghana.

When Herzog came to the United States from Ghana in 1998 to live with her husband – an American she’d met while he was in the Peace Corps – she realized just how blessed Americans should consider themselves because of all the opportunity afforded here. Referring to the diversity of American life, Herzog comments quite matter-of-factly, "I’m not sure there’s a lot of places like America."

In her own home, Herzog and her husband try to incorporate diversity into the everyday lives of their three sons. Throughout the house, Herzog has maps posted on the walls, with a 3-by-5 foot world map in the dining room on which Herzog’s many international friends can point out to her sons where they come from.

"It’s such a freeing thing that has immeasurable power, just knowing someone from a different culture," Herzog said. "I think the danger is not to know that there’s a bigger world out there."

"Consistency is good," Herzog added, "but every now and then you need an outside perspective. We all need someone to always come and shake us up. That’s what’s great about international students: they ask ‘Why?’ and the ‘why’ is what’s interesting.”