Orientation introduces international students to UGA
Program helps students with cultural aspects of navigating campus.
When Nana Boateng arrived at the University of Georgia from her native Ghana just a year ago, she wasn’t certain of her ability to adjust to life on an American college campus. She had more questions than answers. How do I find my way around campus? Will I connect with others and make new friends? How do I apply for a driver’s license or open a bank account?
“My biggest fears coming to college in the U.S. were adjusting to a new culture, being exposed to a different environment and making friends,” the second-year nutrition science/pre-med major explained. “I was alone in a new country.”
Frans Judea Samosir, a second-year health promotion and behavior major from Indonesia, admits that isolation was his greatest dread.
“I had anxiety about being lonely and having no social support,” he said.
For the more than 2,000 international students from 91 countries who enroll at UGA each year, adapting to the campus brings an additional set of cultural challenges that U.S. students don’t typically face. International Student Orientation, coordinated by the department of International Student Life, seeks to assuage those challenges by giving international students a more intense level of support.
“When a student from another country chooses to attend UGA, we have a responsibility to uphold our institutional promise of a positive and rewarding experience,” said Justin Jeffery, director of ISL. “The cost of coming to school in the U.S. from abroad is quite high, and these students are putting great physical distance between themselves and their families. It’s a tremendous leap of faith both financially and emotionally.”
International Student Orientation is a weeklong program tailored exclusively for new international students. Interactive sessions, social activities, resource fairs and campus tours keep students engaged from dawn to dusk.
Students are divided into groups of about 15 members, and each group is paired with two student volunteers known as world leaders. The world leaders guide the students through orientation and lead breakout sessions on topics like cultural and academic adjustment, grocery shopping, buying a car, transportation in Athens and registering for classes.
Dilru Silva, a senior biology and psychology major, said she chose to volunteer as a world leader because she knew of the struggles her parents faced when they immigrated to the U.S. from Sri Lanka to attend college.
“Their decision to study, live and raise their children here really shaped my life and gave me opportunities only dreamt of in Sri Lanka,” she explained. “Being able to make that initial transition to the U.S. easier for other students who have a similar story is what motivates me.”
World Leader Justin Han, a senior double majoring in genetics and music, echoed Silva’s sentiments.
“As a military child and as a student who has studied abroad, I can relate to how terrifying it could be to experience a dramatic change in environment and how stressful it is to adapt to it,” he said. “I want to mitigate those afflictions by creating a home away from home for these students.”
“ISL welcomed me with open arms and has been like a family for me here in the U.S. Orientation was a remarkable experience that made me love and appreciate UGA, the U.S. and even the very confusing tax system”
— Nana Boateng
Last year, nearly 250 incoming first-year and transfer international students attended the orientation. Jeffery says the detailed nature of UGA’s program makes it desirable to students.
“At many other schools, international orientation is administered through admissions, but we are fortunate at Georgia to have a department like ISL dedicated solely to supporting students from abroad,” he said. “The length of our program is also unique because we want to avoid overloading the students. It’s a lot of information to digest.”
Social events are also an important part of the experience. ISL staff and world leaders plan pool parties, bowling, soccer and Frisbee games, trips to the movies and shopping excursions.
Boeteng says she’d love the chance to participate in orientation all over again.
“ISL welcomed me with open arms and has been like a family for me here in the U.S. Orientation was a remarkable experience that made me love and appreciate UGA, the U.S. and even the very confusing tax system,” she quipped.
This year’s International Student Orientation is scheduled from Aug. 4-10.
ISL was formed in 1997 to support UGA’s goal of fostering a campus climate that appreciates and promotes an interdependent global society. The department’s other programs and services include advising for international student organizations, tax-preparation assistance for international students, off-campus housing support, cross-cultural adjustment counseling and individual student advising.
— Don Reagin, Student Affairs