Two years ago on my first day of classes as a freshman, I felt anxious. As an international student, I wasn’t just new to Temple, I was new to America.
I figured out where I was going on Main Campus though because I had been shown the buildings during international student orientation. But I had no idea I would feel so isolated once classes began.
The only familiar faces I recognized were those of other international students, whom I met during our week-long orientation at the end of the summer, and I slowly gravitated toward them, instead of getting to know American students.
The setup of orientation for international students isolates them from their American peers before they even get the chance to meet them, as the orientation for American freshmen is held separately.
Leah Hetzell, assistant director of International Student Affairs, said international students often find themselves in a situation similar to mine.
“Students stay with their friends and people that they feel comfortable with,” she said. “A lot of the times it’s people that come from the same country and speak the same language.”
The 2020 freshman class is made up of about 6.5 percent international students. These 337 international students did not meet any of their other 4,825 freshman peers until classes started because of the nature of international student orientation.
“Most of my friends I hang out with right now are from international orientation,” said Jiahao Li, a junior chemistry major. “My roommate right now I met during international orientation.”
Li, who is an international student from China, has volunteered to help at international student orientation for the past two years.
“I remember students told me they were really interested in making friends with American students,” he said.
Li said it’s also important for international students to become friends with American students so they have someone to talk to in their classes.
“When classes started I was one of the only international students and I had to make friends all over again,” he said. “It’s a really good idea to have some connections before classes.”
Combining the orientations for American and international students would allow international students to meet more members of their class.
Currently, American students can choose from different two-day orientation dates throughout the summer. If American students were allowed to choose from even a few dates that fell during the same week as international student orientation, then both groups could be on Main Campus at the same time.
Hetzell said she is not sure the logistical setup of orientation could be changed to introduce international students to American students. International Student Affairs is currently working on a program, however, to aid international students through a “peer-to-peer” initiative, pairing them up with Owl Team leaders, who are already upperclassmen.
“It might expose them to someone different,” Hetzell said. “We are hoping that programs like that are going to be helpful.”
Hetzell said she is also working to get cultural organizations to interact with other clubs to encourage international students to meet American students.
While I think these types of initiatives are important, they are not enough to solve the problem of isolation that many international students suffer from.
An individual interaction with an older Owl Team leader isn’t likely to develop into the same type of lasting friendship that could develop between two freshmen of any nation.
And introducing cultural organizations to other student organizations is an attempt at fixing a problem after the fact, instead of eliminating the problem to begin with. At this point, international students have been on campus long enough to join other clubs.
International students need to be incorporated into the Temple student body from the start, and for this to occur there needs to be a serious restructuring in the setup of the university’s orientations.
Alisa Islam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.