New Program Supports Growing International Population
By Jill Gambon
New students arrive on campus brimming with questions: How do I get to my next class? Where do I catch the shuttle bus? What’s the best spot on campus for a quick bite? For international students, many of whom are experiencing the local culture, climate and campus for the first time, the list of questions is even longer.
To ease the transition for students arriving from other countries, the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) has recruited a team of student ambassadors whose duties include everything from helping new students navigate their way around campus to planning social activities and programs.
“We have an excellent group of student ambassadors,” says ISSO Director Maria Conley. “They are very active and outgoing and have been the voice of international students on campus.”
The student ambassador program was launched last year, with more than a dozen students from around the world participating. In addition to helping with orientation, the ambassadors organize social and cultural activities like the weekly coffee hour held on North Campus and plan excursions to popular shopping or sightseeing destinations. Last year, they developed programming for International Education Week, including a
public forum on human rights.
This semester, the student ambassadors are busier than ever as the University has welcomed its largest international enrollment, with students hailing from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe and more than 50 countries in between.
Siddarth Sharma, an MBA student in the Manning School of Business, joined the international ambassador program last year because he wanted help others feel at home on campus.
“I want to be a touch point for international students. Whether it’s figuring out email addresses, student identification cards or housing, it’s very complicated for international students and we don’t have family here to help,” says Sharma, who is a native of India.
The ambassadors help connect newly arrived students to services and resources on campus that they may not know about, he said.
“Moving from your home country can be a difficult situation,” says student ambassador Marcela Linares, who is originally from Venezuela and is now working on a master’s degree in plastics engineering. “I’ve been very lucky and I want to give back. I know what the new students are going through.”
The Friday afternoon coffee-hour program has been popular among international students who gather to socialize and learn about what’s happening on campus. Each week features a different theme, with food or activities from different countries. Staff members from various campus departments and offices are invited to update students on topics like transportation or career services.
“We are creating places where people can feel comfortable and accepted,” Linares says.
In addition to planning activities to bring students together, the ambassadors also provide important feedback that helps shape services to meet their needs, Conley says.