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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

International students’ orientation prepares class of 2016

Published: August 31, 2012
Section: Features

Brandeis hosts an orientation for new undergraduate international students two days prior to the arrival of domestic students. Run by the Brandeis International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) and the Department of Orientation and the Core Committee, the international student orientation offers students from around the globe a chance to get acclimated with their new host culture and institution.

According to Gillian Boulay, the international student adviser, the international student orientation begins with the training of orientation leaders and Roosevelt Fellows. “We talk about some of the challenges and transitions that international students go through,” explained Boulay. “The ISSO’s involvement in the international orientation regards issues such as culture shock, visas and coming to the United States for the first time. We make Orientation Leaders and Roosevelt Fellows aware of the transitions that students will be going through.”

To ensure the preparedness of Orientation Leaders and Roosevelt Fellows, Brandeis allots four and a half days of training to communication and facilitation skills.

“The Department of Orientation emails the international students during the summer and does airport pickups from Logan,” Jenny Abdou, the director of orientation, said. “Most arriving international students are anxious about getting here safely, and we want to help alleviate that stress.”

Mitchell Schwartz ’14, the coordinator of orientation this year, explained how diligently Brandeis students and staff work in order to make sure international students feel at home, and have the same orientation experiences as their domestic classmates.

“On Friday [Aug. 17] all of the international students arrived on campus,” Schwartz said. “The students are moved in by Orientation Leaders, and attend a new student reception held for students and family members. Students meet one another, attend icebreakers on the great lawn as well as an ice cream social.”

Schwartz continued to describe how on Saturday the international students attended specific information sessions about visas, social security numbers and the American classroom experience. Students are counseled on what it is like to be a student in America, and are provided with resource workshops about community standards, career opportunities and staying healthy.

Following the information workshops, students and Orientation Leaders were bused to Babson University, where they went ice skating. Many students had never seen snow before, let alone ice.

“It’s important to keep international orientation low key,” Schwartz said. “These students are drained from jet lag, and worrying about visa statuses. Low key events are extremely helpful to them.”

At the conclusion of the international student orientation, international students were assigned new orientation groups; thereby integrating them with domestic students who arrived on Sunday, ensuring equal experiences for all incoming students.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of being part of the Brandeis community, is that once oriented, students form close bonds regardless of country of origin. “Brandeis is such a warm and welcoming community for international students because there is no difference between American and international students,” Schwartz said. “The community is so integrated because Brandeis makes great strides to ensure that all students are included in the same clubs and activities.”

As students form friendships and develop routines, Schwartz highlights the importance of making friends with as many different people as possible in order to broaden the overall Brandeis experience.

“The natural reaction is to get as much of your home culture while away,” Schwartz said. “It’s important for students to get out of their comfort zones.”

“We all naturally clump together with people who are like us,” Abdou said. “That’s totally normal. It is great though when people from different cultures can share their backgrounds, their foods and their traditions to celebrate where they are from and what they’re about. International students can teach us so much. Hopefully we’ll teach them things about living in America as well.”

“For new international students coming to Brandeis and transitioning to their new life in the United States, enjoy yourselves and have adventures,” Boulay said. “Meet not only other international students, but make friends with American students as well. Take advantage of all the wonderful people.”