After transferring to Temple University from a small community college, I started anew for the second time in the last couple of years.
Being a transfer student and an international student from the Czech Republic seemed like a double disadvantage at first. My accent can be detected by the end of my first sentence, which makes me stand out even when I try to fit in. I lack the security of a family close by for weekend visits or high school friends to go out with when I want a break from college life.
I wondered if I would feel comfortable at Temple and in Philadelphia.
But when I walked into the Student Center and saw the international flags proudly displayed on the wall, I knew I would feel welcome at Temple. After a couple of months of settling in at my new school, I can say with confidence that the university truly cares about its international students.
Unlike my previous college, which had only a few hundred foreigners, Temple is home to more than 3,000 international students. There are about 1,900 undergraduates and 1,200 higher degree-seeking students, said Leah Hetzell, the director of International Student Affairs.
“We all share the same story,” said Ashwani Poonie, a senior actuarial science major from Mauritius and president of the International Student Association. “We took very long flights here, deal with homesickness.”
Hetzell makes it her priority to ensure that international students feel at home at Temple.
“Our main concern is students,” Hetzell said. “Everything else comes second to students’ wellbeing. We tell every student that our door is open, we are here.”
Monday marked the start of Temple’s second You Are Welcome Here Week, which celebrates the university’s international student population with globally inspired activities.
It’s comforting to be at a university that celebrates being a home to students from around the world.
There are 45 flags displayed in the Student Center. And that doesn’t even do justice to Temple’s international student body, which comes from about 130 countries and regions, the Office of International Affairs reported in 2016. A flag representing the Czech Republic, my home country, is not on display there yet.
“We put up [about] 40 new flags every year, so over the course of somebody’s four years of study, they will see their flag in the atrium,” said Jason Levy, the senior director of Student Center operations.
He added that the flags from the U.S., Canada, China and India are permanently displayed. All the flags are arranged in alphabetical order, but the selection of flags is random.
Levy said the display will undergo a remake soon. This means new groups of students are about to see their flags advertised in the atrium.
Martyn Miller, the assistant vice president of international programs, said he is, “insistent on as much international diversity as possible,” and the Fox School of Business enrolls the most international students of any college on Main Campus.
But no matter what school or college an international student is enrolled in, they can get connected with other students like them by joining an organization like the International Student Association. This group invites international students to various events and encourages them to share their cultures and different affiliations around campus.
“[At International Student Association] we target primarily international students, but everyone is welcome,” Poonie said. “If Americans go study abroad, they are international students as well. So anyone can be an international student and therefore part of the International Student Association.”
While the International Student Association is the hub for all international student organizations, there are also organizations dedicated to specific countries and regions, like the Chinese Students & Scholars Association, the Saudi Students Association at Temple, the Temple University Korean Student Association and the South Asian Students Society of Temple University.
Vanshika Shekhar, a sophomore psychology major from India and a member of the International Student Association, said she felt welcome at Temple from the very beginning.
“My biggest fear was adjusting to a completely new country,” Shekhar said. “But I was excited to become independent.”
This is a common fear for many international students, especially when they don’t know about the huge international family Temple has built. I’m glad I chose a university that welcomes diversity with open arms, and I hope to see my flag will on the wall before I graduate.