As the summer comes to an end, most students pile into their car, pack up their belongings and make the drive back to Northwest. Other students board planes across the world and fly into an unfamiliar country, to a new school, with a couple suitcases and no idea of what to expect.
As 100 international students from 25 countries arrived on campus Aug. 14, likely dazed from long travels but buzzing with excitement, members of the International Involvement Center and Residential Life were there to warmly welcome them to their new home.
For many, just moments after arriving in the country, they are immediately immersed in Bearcat country. International Involvement Center Recruitment Assistant and junior international student Sneha Ojha explained how quickly the new international students must transition from their home country to Northwest.
“They arrive directly from their home country, wherever that is; it can take a 24-hour flight for someone or a 15-hour flight for someone. They land, and the first thing they ever see of America is this place, literally,” Ojha said. “So, they have no idea what to expect.”
International Student Orientation is supposed to help the students learn what to expect and prepare them for life as a Bearcat. The students began International Student Orientation bright and early Aug. 15. For those who arrived late the night before, this was their first true look at campus.
The next six days were filled with various information sessions, meals and fun activities to acclimate the students to campus and prepare them to “succeed as Bearcats,” International Involvement Specialist Erika Lees said.
International Student Orientation is similar to S.O.A.R., but differs in that they also discuss immigration regulations, different U.S. laws and cultural differences, Lees said. In addition to the regular S.O.A.R.-like activities and participating in some Advantage Week events, international students are assisted in creating a bank account, learning to use Safe Ride, making sure they have all necessary immunizations and may even be taken on a trip to Walmart.
“(The goal of International Student Orientation is) to help them settle down, overcome culture shock ... and make them comfortable with the idea of how things are done here, to help them adjust properly and help them feel like this is home and that you equally belong as any other student that goes here,” Ojha said.
For many, the orientation not only establishes Northwest as a home but also establishes the International Involvement Center as an important resource for the entirety of their time at Northwest.
Ojha described it as a home, and International graduate student Kanika Rathee described the International Involvement Center as a support system that kept her going and her confidence up.
“When you don’t have any confidence because everything is new, and people here are helping you, you just don’t want to sit quiet in the corner, because they are giving you so much love and so much confidence and so much support,” Rathee said. “That’s the thing that made me go, ‘Yeah, okay, if I do fall, they are with me. They have my back.’ ... That’s just kept me going.”
After orientation, students learn their own unique ways to “keep going.”
Senior international student Taina Dias shared advice for adjusting to the new environment.
“Everything you start — It’s going to be hard. Open your mind, be open to making friends, and you’re going to make some mistakes; people might not understand you at first, but just be open,” Dias said. “Study hard if you think your English is not good enough, and always ask for help. Northwest is an amazing place, so people help you. We’re all a big family.”
International students incorporating themselves into Northwest’s community and domestic students responding in a welcoming, familial way not only aids in the international students’ transition, but benefits the whole student body, International Involvement Center Director Phil Hull said.
“Any opportunities that domestic students put themselves out there or recognize that an international student is kind of curious about who they are ... that’s an opportunity to make a new friend and learn about a new culture,” Hull said. “One of the things I think adds value to Northwest and having international students is that it makes other cultures and other countries less foreign. It starts to break down the walls.”