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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Welcoming new international students to Northwestern

From greeting international graduate and undergraduate students at O’Hare all the way up to the final s’mores picnic on the lakefill, staff from the Office of International Student and Scholar Services (OISS) and campus partners welcomed a new cohort this September.

One of the key purposes of the International Student Orientations is to familiarize international students with the various governmental rules and regulations that shape their experience at Northwestern and in the country. Beyond the mandated administrative takeaways, however, orientation provides emotional connections that the students form with Northwestern at their first real experience with the University. As Debbie Kaltman, Coordinator of International Student Experiences at OISS, explains: orientation allows the international students to meet students from different home countries, cultures, and academic programs. OISS is here to provide international students with a robust social network before they dive into the hectic school year.

Culture shock and extreme homesickness can happen as early as day one.

Of course, there are always challenges. “Culture shock and extreme homesickness can happen as
early as day one of orientation,” says Taya Carothers, Assistant Director of Advising Services. The stress of being away from home and parents—often for the first time—along with immigration can push the boundaries of some students’ comfort zones. It takes careful balancing of engaging socialization activities and respect for the inevitable stresses of being in an unfamiliar environment to make sure that students end up with a positive experience at Orientation, regardless of their hesitation about diving into U.S. university culture.

Student help is a big part of the International Student Orientations’ success. International undergraduates are assigned to an International Peer Advisor, a fellow undergraduate who assists in semiformal group advising on immigration, campus life, resource centers, etc. for new international students during orientation. Graduates are assisted by Graduate Sidekicks, international graduate students who focus more on sharing their experiences at Northwestern and in the U.S. rather than administrative formalities.

Irene Huang (Medill ’19) was one of this year’s Graduate Sidekicks, drawing on her own experiences arriving at Northwestern from China. Huang explains that in the process of welcoming the new students, she and the other Graduate Sidekicks, who came from Korea, Turkey, India, and more were all able to learn about their own cultural differences. She said that being able to support incoming international students in the situation she once found herself in was “one of the most amazing things I did this summer.”