MASON CITY | Zadok Nampala, international student adviser at North Iowa Area Community College, can relate to those he's helping because he was once in their shoes.
Nampala, or "Z," as he is known around campus, grew up in Kenya and attended Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids.
Nampala, who has been at NIACC since August, speaks seven languages and frequently uses three of them — Spanish, Arabic and Swahili — when speaking to the international students at NIACC so "they feel at home," he said.
NIACC has around 30 international students from Australia, Bangladesh, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, France, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania and Venezuela. Nampala is hoping there will be more next year.
People on campus have been very receptive to creating a better environment for international students, according to Nampala.
He said his goal is "opening people's minds and trying to challenge some stereotypes."
Nampala, 32, lives in Iowa Falls with his wife, Dr. Erin Schmidt. They have three children, ages 6, 3 and 1.
Nampala met Schmidt, who was born in Iowa and grew up in Wisconsin, when she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.
He first came to the United States to be with her while she attended medical school at the University of Iowa, and because he wanted to pursue his education.
Nampala earned his associate degree from Kirkwood and later received his bachelor's degree in psychology and his master's degree in social work from the University of Iowa.
He said he's glad he attended community college first, noting it was not only less expensive but also had smaller class sizes.
It also helped him get a foundation before transferring to the University of Iowa, where "life is extremely fast-paced," he said.
Nampala said one of the biggest cultural differences between the United States and Kenya is "how fast people are moving."
He said a lot of students from other countries have noticed that as well. They often tell him they are surprised when people don't always have time to stop and chat.
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Nampala also said the relationship between students and professors is less formal in the United States. He said he appreciated the opportunity to be able to talk to his instructors on a more personal level.
When Schmidt got a job as a family physician in Iowa Falls, Nampala began looking for a job in the area.
Nampala likes working with people from different cultures, so when he learned about the job opening for international student adviser at NIACC, "it seemed like a really good fit for me."
He has started a conversational Spanish group at NIACC. People don't have to know any Spanish to join, and they learn a few new words each time.
One of Nampala's duties is recruitment of international students.
"I try to cast my net really wide," he said.
One of the biggest challenges is getting students from developing countries because of finances. But Nampala said NIACC has an advantage there because the college is so reasonably priced.
One thing he emphasizes when recruiting students to come to NIACC is "It's quiet. There's not that much distraction."
This makes it easier for students to focus on their studies, he said.
The new student housing complex that just opened at NIACC also is helping him with his recruitment efforts, he said.
He wants to strengthen the international student organization on campus and set up peer mentoring relationships.
Nampala also would like to see the international students go into local schools and talk to students there about where they are from.
Nampala is at NIACC two days a week, which leaves him time for other pursuits, including translating at courthouses and hospitals. He also does this in Iowa City if there's a need.
"Interpreting is my passion," he said.
Rachel McGuire, director of admissions at NIACC, said Nampala has been a great addition to the admissions office.
"He's a people person," she said. "He makes an instant connection with people."