An Inside Look at the International Student Experience

By Anna Gombert

Drew’s International Student population has increased by 195 percent in the last four years. Despite this increase, there still seems to be a divide between international students and students from the U.S.

All international students go through a program when they first arrive called International Student Orientation, or ISO, that takes place a few days before freshman orientation. They then also take part in the school-wide orientation with the rest of their class.

Nicholas Smale (‘19), from Brazil, explained, “I feel like the International Student Orientation was very helpful; I felt comfortable from day one and everyone was extremely nice to me. If it weren’t for the great reception I got from the INTO staff, my experience here at Drew would have been entirely different –– I would have had a harder time.” Bongiwe Bongwe (‘20), from Johannesburg, South Africa, stated, “It was helpful in preparing us for the start of school and living away from home, for example the trips to Target and the bank orientation sessions. It could be improved by finding a way for relations between Tilghman House and International Students to be better maintained, post-orientation.”

“I think it helped everyone bond really well and get used to being in a totally new country before we were thrown in the deep end with classes and everything else that goes on,” said Izabella Louk (‘20) who is from Sydney, Australia. Leoš Malec (‘21) from the Czech Republic, explained, “I definitely feel very welcomed and supported by the university. Both the professors and the students are very friendly, therefore, it is a pleasure for me to be part of the community.”

Despite the good that the orientation is doing so far, students also noted that there were improvements that could be made to the program.

“The program went out of its way to emphasise that we were different from Americans, which felt odd, and not altogether welcoming, but for the most part it was really helpful to just have those few extra days to get used to everything,” Louk said, continuing to reflect on the International Student Orientation.  

Smale continued, saying, “The University is doing a great job with the international students. However, I feel like after International Student Orientation, many students lose touch with each other because they aren’t going through the same schedule anymore.” He suggested, “The University could come up with more activities that integrate the students again, because I’ve noticed a few students that start to feel kind of lonely or homesick after that week is over.”

Looking further into these complaints could possibly help to bridge the divide between domestic and international students.

Malec explained, “From my experience, the majority of U.S. students are very open and try to connect with the international students. However, I can often see that the U.S. students tend to spend most of the time with other U.S. students and don’t care about the international students. In my opinion, it is both-sided.”

Bongwe also explained, “I feel welcomed at Drew University. The support networks, for me, come from strong friendships and good relations with my professors. There is a sense in which the mutual building of relationships on campus is what creates a welcoming environment.” She explained the issues that occur for international students during move-in after the first year. Early move in costs $50.00 a day, and there are not special allowances for international students. On campus storage is only open until 5 p.m. on the day of move in, which is where most international students store their belongings. Sometimes it is difficult for international students to find flights that will arrive on the move-in date and allow for them to retrieve their things from storage before 5 p.m. and then attend class the next day. This is also not taking into account the jet lag and readjustment that many international students have to deal with after traveling.

Alison Dabrowski (‘18) is an International Ambassador, or IA, which means she helps out with International Student Orientation, making sure students get settled in and accompanying them through their several-day orientation. Dabrowski stated, “It seemed that some of the students didn’t have any interest in the combined orientation activities…because a lot of it was repetitive to what they had been doing the previous five days. I think that because of this there can still be a divide between international and domestic students even after orientation is over.” She continuedI think that the students and staff both strive to treat domestic and international students as equals.”

She went on to elaborate on how the university was still running on summer schedule and operations during ISO, so there were very limited options in the commons. “The impact of this didn’t faze me much until the day that the new domestic students had arrived. On that day, every station in commons was open with almost every food you can imagine was being cooked and offered,” Dabrowski said. “To me, in that moment, Drew was displaying that they care more about the arrival of domestic students than the international students who had arrived five days prior.”

She did end on a hopeful note, stating, “My hope for the future is that with every coming year Drew can find ways to better improve the stay of international students and let them know that their presence on this campus is just as important as that of the domestic students, starting as soon as they arrive.”

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