Orientation is, for many of us, that bridging experience that sets the tone for how you expect your first year to turn out. It’s that not-so-sweet, slightly scary spot to pass through on your way to becoming a college student. For me, and many others, it set the tone for life in another country. 

Being an international student, I had to move in earlier than domestic students. I arrived at campus and was greeted by the International Student Orientation (ISO) staff awaiting us on the steps of Usdan, ready to welcome us to our new home. I wish I could say my biggest concerns were cultural shock, or being seen as too international to ever integrate seamlessly into the student body, but I was quickly cornered by a new, seemingly trivial worry: What if no one ever gets my name right? 

A whirlwind of new names comes with any new transition, but for international students at orientation, we seemed to commit to learning each other’s names thoughtfully and authentically without ever needing to talk about it. “No, say it again, I want to get it right,” became one of our most frequently uttered phrases. ISO was, in this way, greatly reassuring: We were all away from home, we were all converting kilometers to miles on a daily basis, and we would all make jokes about American food and deportation as our go-to. We were all just a little bit more nervous than the others. 

One of my fondest memories of ISO was when a small group of friends and I were sitting in the middle of Andrus field at sunset with music playing softly from our phones from each of our countries that not all of us at once could ever understand. But in that twilight haze, the campus felt like a new home in the making.

My ISO leader warned us that regular orientation, or NSO, could be overwhelming. In a big group of mostly Americans, international students like myself felt more out of place than everyone else. Many of us thought the NSO groups were much too large to foster any real connections. While I, unable to ever shut my mouth for long enough, spoke as much as anyone else at the NSO events, I definitely noticed that the other few international students in my group didn’t speak as much as they may have during ISO events. 

I remember a fellow international student saying how much she appreciated the normalized usage of “international students” to refer to us, as opposed to the official documentation that got us into this country that labeled us as “alien” and “foreign.” I had never even thought about this. Having moved in quite earlier before the new students, I remember on move-in day, the international student group chat flooded with complaints of, “Can the Americans shut up? It’s 7 in the morning!” We snickered behind our screens, in denial of the small statistic we made up in this foreign land. I had forgotten in those days, our status as a minority.

At the NSO events, you could follow a routine: introduce yourself, simplify your name’s pronunciation if you lacked integrity that particular day, and ask “Oh cool, where are you  from?” after which the domestic students would inevitably tell you that they’re from New York. ISO events, in comparison, felt much more spontaneous to me—maybe it was all the diverse accents, maybe it was the paint fumes from “paint your own tote” night. Another great ISO experience was karaoke night, a testament to the diversity and acceptance we all had for each other. People sang songs in groups particular to their nations, but not once did the hall witness a lull in cheers for any one country’s rendition of “Pen Pineapple Apple Pen,” or any other song that perhaps no one but the singers understood. That support was felt again at the international students group photo; flags were passed out on a decidedly non-identity basis on the steps of Olin, my Indian friends never prouder to represent Taiwan.

I worry I don’t emphasize how fun orientation was: Friends were made, names were learned and butchered, and I met a handful of truly amazing ISO and NSO leaders, people who did everything they could to give us as much relevant, real information as they could. The poetic speech at In the Company of Others (ITCOO) of my ISO leader, Priyanshu Pokhrel ’26, brought me back to the reality that the excitement of orientation separated me from: What about the other life I have back home? Finding friends of my own ethnicity almost made it seem like I never really left India, but I wondered, like many others, if this was a cheat sheet to being oriented to a new place. My NSO leaders, however, felt just as accessible, unceasing in their efforts to make it known that they’re there for us anytime. 

Much like our ISO leaders prophesied, it was only after NSO that we internationals realized the immense need for ISO a primer. I do believe that the ritual was important—an experience that made it clear that second homes can be just as beautiful as “original” homes.

Janhavi Munde can be reached at jmunde@wesleyan.edu.