While most new students worry about getting along with roommates or devising course schedules, approximately 84 international students last weekend faced anxieties ranging from getting immunization shots to making sure the University had received their immigration papers.
Since its beginnings as a small, informal program, the International Student Orientation (ISO) has grown into a longer, more complicated orientation that spans four days and includes lectures, trips and group projects. During this time, students learn about banking, including how to write checks and the differences between credit and debit cards, in addition to attending lectures on I-9 processing, managing culture shock, academic expectations and campus social life.
According to Alice Hadler, associate dean for International Student Affairs, the ISO provides students with an intimate community that allows students to adjust and meet one another.
“Bonding is very important, so students do programs and workshops in small groups, and have many opportunities to showcase their country’s traditions,” Hadler said.
A favorite for many of the international freshmen, as well as the ISO interns who plan the Orientation, is the skits that students perform Sunday night, which often parody the events that this diverse group of students went through to adjust both to the United States and to campus life. Past skits have poked fun at getting immunized and learning about American culture.
“The skits are the highlight of the ISO program in my mind,” said ISO intern Rudisang Motshubi ’11. “Students enjoy the various forms of comedy represented.”
Additionally, the ISO organizes a shopping trip to allow international students to purchase necessities that they are less likely to be able to haul from home, such as linens, bedding, desk lamps, rugs and storage boxes.
While students admit that the ISO and the New Student Orientation (NSO) are similar in structure, ISO divides participating students into small groups, and each group is paired with one international student and one American student to facilitate the adjustment process.
“I felt the process was very personal,” said Yushi Ohmori ’11, an international student from Japan. “All of us had time to have small introductions — which would have been impossible to do at the NSO — and it was fun to recognize people who I became friends with on Facebook and approach them. I met a fair number of my closest friends during ISO.”
This experience was similar for Eunju Rho ’12, an international student from South Korea.
“Because of the small group, the ISO helped me meet so many people,” Rho said. “The workshops were very useful, and the orientation gave students time to review documents and residential papers, which we otherwise might not have had time to do.”
The ISO began in 1995 with 20 Freeman Scholars. Since the University’s intention was to expand its international student population, it seemed most logical to create a program that would encourage international students, in addition to the Freeman Scholars, to attend. According to Hadler, the international student community doubled within the first four years of the ISO. Currently, the University’s student population boasts 240 international students, 88 of whom are Freeman Scholars.
In addition to nearly two dozen Freeman Scholars, the class of 2012 includes students from Pakistan, Swaziland, Uruguay, Kuwait, Bulgaria and Kenya.
Under the Roth administration, plans are underway for an even greater expansion of the international student population.
“One of the University’s goals is to increase the number of international students to 10 percent of the overall student population, and each year we’re moving closer to that goal,” Hadler said.
While the ISO interns play an important role in the orientation process, this year they were granted even more freedom in creating and implementing their ideas.
“I helped to foster a collaboration with the Green Street Arts Center, which hadn’t been done last year,” said ISO intern Shirin Sulaiman ’11. “We aimed to encourage the students to walk down to that end of Main Street and find out more about the opportunities at the Center. Given the large turnout and the level of enthusiasm they showed, I’m hoping that at least some of them will consider volunteering or working at the Center while they’re at Wes.”
For Ohmori, and other international students like him, the ISO was an integral part of his adjustment not only to college life, but to living in the United States.
“Had there not been an ISO, I would have missed the opportunity to make a personal introduction to a handful of fellow international students, and have other students introduce themselves to me,” Ohmori said.