From several countries and backgrounds, a group of UCF students recently faced each other and their cultural differences – and learned that working together they can create something bigger than themselves: a stress-free community.

The students from all corners of the globe – from Spain to South Korea to Libya and beyond – are all in a UCF English Language Institute communication skills class, and on this day they were part of the first drum-empowerment outreach at the campus’ new Global UCF building.

Sitting in a circle with a variety of drums, the 10 students were led by Christine Dassow, a student-counseling specialist from the university’s Counseling & Psychological Services. The goals of the exercise, she said, are primarily to familiarize the international students far from home with the UCF counselors in case they ever need them, help relieve any stress the students may have experienced here, and give them more confidence to advocate for themselves on campus.

When Nicole Ianieri, director of the institute, asked the students if any of them come from cultures that use drums a lot, most of them raised their hands.

“No one here today is expected to have any talent or experience,” Dassow told the students before they grabbed either an African “talking drum,” djembe, versa timbaus, or frame drum. “It’s about having fun and getting the stress out and feeling better when you leave here.”

The drum session started slowly as the students pounded out a rhythm and took turns saying their names. Afterward, Dassow introduced new instructions with each round of drumming, sometimes working in call-and-response, sometimes with varying volume, sometimes in syncopation and sometimes not.

But all of the rounds ended in laughter.

“It was amazing,” said Mohamed Mohamed, a first-year student from Sudan majoring in cyber information security. “We need to relax and feel comfortable with people at the same time. I hope we could have this class every week. It’s going to help.”

Fatemah Tuwainah, another first-year-student from Kuwait majoring in computer engineering, said this was her “first time drumming like that together – with others and freely. I felt positivity and a connection with my classmates.”

Tuwainah said that even though she’s only been in the United States a month, she has felt the challenges of being away from home and striving to succeed in class.

“This did help with the stress,” she said. “And it’s a nice change to just listening to lectures.”

Dassow has long used music in her counseling sessions, but this is the first time she’s taken her drums out of her office to work with a group on campus. She thought this would be a good outreach opportunity for students unfamiliar with UCF’s counseling services.

“It’s a universal instrument. And I love that they’re interested in the drums and not shy with them,” she said. “It feels good to get out that energy and feels good to get out that stress.”

At the end of the session, she directed the students to do what they wanted on the drums for one minute: “Do whatever you want. It could be a different beat, but we’re all bonded together. You’ll be in rhythm because we’re all in this group.”

True to her words, some of them played fast and others played faster. Some slapped the drum head with their palms, others with fists; some hit the center while others grazed the edges. But eventually they settled into a joint rhythm, all of them in unison.

And when Dassow signaled to stop, they erupted in laughter – all bonded together.

Christine Dassow of the UCF Counseling & Psychological Services office will hold drum-empowerment workshops for other students Oct. 11 and Nov. 8. The one-hour sessions for wellness and stress reduction start at 1 p.m. at 4090 Libra Drive and have a limited number of spaces. Arrive up to 30 minutes before the session to sign up at the front desk. Drums will be provided.