First-Year Orientation Helps International Students Begin Semester Successfully

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First-Year and Sophomore international students enjoy the bonfire and S'mores at the Campus farm on their second or third on campus. Photo by Gina Chuang.

International Student Orientation

International student move-in for the Fall semester was staggered from Aug. 16 to 22 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, though most first-years moved in on Aug. 16. 

Once on campus, international students attended more than 14 different sessions as part of their new student orientation, according to the Interim International Student Services Specialist Beth Haymaker.

Orientation included a mix of in-person social events and online informational sessions. In the informational meetings, students learned financial information (how to apply for jobs and acquire a social security number), academic information (distribution requirements and credits) and the ins and outs of American and DePauw culture. Programmed afternoon social events included a picnic in Bowman Park and a bonfire with s’mores.

DePauw University provided shuttle services from their airport to campus, where new international students were met by ambassadors (upperclassmen international students who help guide them through the first year), according to Mishal Ali, a senior and student leader working with International Student Affairs (ISA).

Ambassadors helped students check in, get room keys and bedding, and move into their rooms. “A lot of students really appreciated that after they came from so many long flights,” Ali said. 

Like DePauw’s mentor program for first-year students, the ambassador program lasts the entire year. After orientation, first-year international students have “monthly and biweekly check-ins with [their] ambassador[s], just to make sure everything is okay,” according to Ali. They also have social events throughout the year with other international students. Haymaker and the ISA department work on events like the International Bazaar, an international food festival and programs such as Hoosier hospitality, which pairs international and local families. 

Throughout the rest of the year, DePauw’s regular resources like the Hubbard Center, the Academic Resource Center and the Wellness Center are open to all students. International students can also reach out to Haymaker or to Designated School Officials (DSOs), “who are trained to work with the imigration process,” according to Haymaker, at institutes like the Hubbard Center. Haymaker’s email is elizabethhaymaker@depauw.edu.

International Students Reflect on Orientation

According to Ali, many first-year students are concerned about finding community and friendships at DePauw, however, she believes that these concerns are heightened for students coming in from other countries. 

“[Being an international student] is an extra filter you have to add on to anything that you’re trying to do,” Ali said. She explained that international students have to account for additional stress factors such as VISA requirements, United States healthcare, culture shock, and language barriers. “For instance, a Vietnamese student may want to have a  tight-knit Vietnamese community, but they also want to branch out and get to know other people, too,” Ali added.

Hana Le, a junior and lead ambassador who helps the ambassadors design events for their groups, explained that the ambassadors also ate lunch and dinner with the first-year students to make sure they knew someone who has prior experience at DePauw and to guide them during that first week. Quan Nguyen, a first-year from Vietnam, stated that these lunches were an important part of orientation to him. “Through the lunchtimes, the bonding time, I find that it’s actually not that hard to start talking to new people. You just have to try it, and they will happily respond back,” Nguyen said.

Quynh Chu, a first-year from Vietnam, had a 27 hour flight to campus. She was apprehensive about a potential culture and academic shock. “Maybe the food here, what if it doesn’t suit my taste? What if I cannot get along with many friends? What if I fall behind in my classes?” Chu said. These were common questions that a lot of international students have to go through, according to Chu. 

Some students couldn’t move in right away. Nguyen had to be isolated for his first few days at DePauw. “Unfortunately, I had a fever when I arrived at the campus,” Nguyen said. He lived in an isolated house for three days before being cleared to move into his dorm room and join orientation. 

Nguyen missed the beginning of orientation while isolated. “It’s like I was put behind everyone; while they had some time to bond with each other, see new people, I had to stay in my room,” Nguyen said. Despite the setback that came from his isolation period, he described the orientation as “wonderful,” and said the ISA staff helped him both during and after his isolation period. 

Chu appreciated the Q&A sessions during orientation and thought orientation could be more interactive in the future to help provide students the information they need. She also felt she wanted more information on “how to apply for on-campus jobs.” She said she and other students often didn’t realize they needed to have a job offer to apply for a social security number or learn how to format resumés for Handshake.