Dusk descends as yet another source of warmth and light arises. Firewood cracks and s’mores sizzle as the bright bonfire dances amid a lovely group of students. This is what you can expect at the VISA bonfire, which will occur at the Outdoor Space in Townhouse Circle on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 7 pm. According to VISA Vice President and director of this event, Tyler Wen ’18, the VISA bonfire is an annual event designed to bring all the international and internationally-affiliated individuals on campus together, and especially for international freshmen to bond and meet new friends.
As stated in the Vassar Student Association website, Vassar International Student Association (VISA) is a student-run organization that addresses the specific needs of the international community of the college. This organization is open to anyone who feels “international.”
Director of International Services Andrew Meade said that the bonfire is VISA’s first official event of the year. “It traditionally has offered the opportunity for first-year internationals to meet returning international students, and to hear a little about what VISA has in store for the year,” he wrote.
For international freshmen, the VISA bonfire will be a sequel to international orientation. For Wenxuan Guo ’20, the orientation organized by VISA and OIS was quite enjoyable. She recounted, “The meetings and workshops were informative and helpful. Despite the rain, we still had a wonderful bonfire with delicious s’mores.” Eilif Rønning ’20 agreed: “I thought it was a nice closing to the orientation and gave us time to socialize without icebreakers and get to know people.”
Maggie Chen ’20 expressed that she also felt supported during orientation and throughout the beginning of college. “I like my international pod. We bonded over dinner. Although I still feel like there are people I didn’t get to talk to during international orientation. So I’m excited for another bonfire!” Both Guo and Chen expressed their wish to have more time during orientation. Thus VISA bonfire is a great opportunity for internationals to reconnect and form new bonds.
VISA President Robyn Lin ’18 noted that they are seeking to further support international freshman after orientation and are considering reinstating the old big-sibling-little-sibling mentorship program for international students.
International Services Student Intern Nora Kyrkjebo ’18 spoke about the role of the International Services office in supporting students: “Not only do we want to act as a voice for our community but we’re [also] striving to have individual voices of international community heard within the larger context of Vassar. There are so many nationalities represented—and with that many more cultures, languages and experiences—here at Vassar, all of which deserve to be heard.”
She added that the organization also seeks to foster international cross-cultural interaction by encouraging international and domestic students to engage in conversations with each other.
Meade felt that last year there weren’t enough events in the first half of the fall term. To address that, he announced that the office will host five new “Around the World” events, featuring Europe, Latin America, Africa, East Asia and South/ Southeast Asia. He explained, “These are great events for connecting with other internationals, as well as for any student to find out more about life in other parts of the world.”
The first “Around the World” event took place last Wednesday, Sept. 14. It took on a regional exploration of European culture and cuisine. International students cooked together and shared delicious dishes from around the world. Alex Sun ’20 commented that he really enjoyed the food and activities. “There was a diversity of opinion that wasn’t American and we got to play some fun games to learn basic demographic/trivia information,” said Sun.
Meade also introduced the next big annual event, Kaleidoscope, which will take place before Thanksgiving and is part of the International Education Week. He wrote in an emailed statement, “Kaleidoscope is a collaboration of VISA and OIS. It is an international festival complete with the World’s Got Talent show, an international dessert cook-off, the culmination of the annual international photo contest, a world flag ceremony and lots of great ethnic cuisine from the area. We aim for as many as 500 people to come to this event, which is both a wonderful celebration of the international community as well as one of our best ‘bridge events,’ programs that appeal to all students.”
The OIS and VISA host all these events with the goal of helping international students adjust to life in the US and to develop a community of friends.
Rønning commented, “I think VISA is very helpful with the transition to the U.S. and Vassar and [is] a wonderful resource on campus. All the interns and others are such warm, kind people that make you feel so welcome. In terms of expectations for the future, I generally just hope to see communication from them via e-mail and occasional events for the international community at Vassar. I also hope that events like ‘Around the World’ could have more structured discussion.” He also suggested an event where people could wear traditional clothing from their countries.
In response to international students’ gratitude, Meade articulated that directing these events for them was a rewarding experience. He wrote, “OIS and VISA do work hard to create this welcome, but it really is a labor of love.”
Tyler Wen concluded, “We will continue to host great events for the Vassar community, especially for our internationals. After all, we’re one big family.”