College can be a huge adjustment for everyone, but it especially is for international students. Coming from all over the world, international students have to overcome culture shock and changes in the environment in general, not to mention having to deal with the heavy work load. Luckily, Vassar has been doing a great job accommodating international students in a way that they could also feel at home during their four-year course of study at Vassar. Flying all the way from Beijing to Poughkeepsie, I took a big risk going to college in a country that I barely knew. However, since the first time that I stepped on campus, I have been telling myself how blessed I am to be a part of the Vassar family.
I remember arriving on campus on the late night shuttle at 1 a.m. When I was worried that there would be no one there to direct me to my dorm, volunteers from the Office of International Service greeted students who just arrived on campus with enthusiastic shouts and welcome banners in hand. Among those waiting for the students was Yunjia (Olivia) Zhou, a sophomore intern from Chengdu, China, who later recognized that “the most exciting moment was the time when we saw internationals arrive at Vassar! Some of our office has prepared all summer for their arrival, and it was terrific to finally meet these amazing people in person!” And it was such a great feeling when people like her could pass on their excitement to freshmen like us. I was really grateful to have people like them to thoroughly introduce us to the diversity of resources and activities available during international student orientation. Since the first day, I was convinced that there is always someone to turn to for help whenever we need anything.
During the two-day international student orientation, Vassar, and more specifically the Office of International Services, was extremely considerate of international students’ identities. International students, regardless of full-time, exchange or transfer, were put into small “pods,” each comprised of roughly 10 students led by a OIS intern. The fact that we were in relatively small groups during orientation helped many of us considerately in a sense that we could all overcome our shyness and quickly felt comfortable to talk. Ice-breakers assisted students to establish new friendships; the Hudson Walkway impressed and excited the students with exotic and breath-taking sceneries while exchanges on culture shock and cultural values created understanding and respect among all members of the international student community.
Many international students have expressed their gratitude towards this special event before the chaos and stress of the move-in day for other students. Kohei Joshi, of Japan, identified the best part of the Orientation as “meeting other international students and forming bonds with them.” This tie has become so strong that he still talks to his international friends, even as the people he interacts with have expanded into a broader community. Coming from Vietnam, Thao Nguyen was grateful that the school officials were all very friendly and helpful.
According to Andrew Meade, Director of International Services, those first few days (of International Student Orientation) are special and important to the overall experience of new internationals as they spent a lot of time and energy introducing students to new concepts and offices. He also wants to give credit to the volunteers and OIS interns who came early to create the space of welcoming space.
The OIS does not stop helping us “create the space of welcome,” as Andrew described, after the semester starts. I was extremely grateful to have celebrated the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival with other Chinese students and professors at Vassar. It was the very first time being away from home on such an important occasion in Chinese culture. Although I was not with my family on this family gathering holiday, I was not too homesick because I have established this new family here. The following day, the first year international students regrouped as we were invited to dinner with our faculty hosts. The faculty host program is a special one for international students, in which faculty members at Vassar volunteer to be hosts and build a whole new support system for first-year international students. It was a really intimate community where the hosts and guests got to know each other on a more personal level.
As a member of both the Class of 2018 and the international student body, I could sense this typical Vassar atmosphere of inclusiveness, liberalism and hospitality from the second that I stepped on the campus. It has been a big adjustment for me coming to Vassar from a completely different country; the OIS, my faculty host and other people have only made my transition easier. I would like to express my gratitude towards everyone at Vassar who has made efforts to create this welcoming environment for international students and domestic students alike. In a friendly atmosphere like this, the one at Vassar College, everyone is not afraid of being exactly who they are and is learning something new about other parts of the world every single day.
—Cherry Ji ’18 is undeclared.