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ND welcomes international students with orientation

| Friday, August 19, 2016

Just a few days before the rest of the student body pours onto campus every August, incoming first-year students begin one of Notre Dame’s most renowned traditions: freshman orientation. For a few days, students participate in small-group bonding experiences and larger community events to welcome them to their dorm and the Notre Dame community at large. Even before this program takes place, however, another orientation is held: international student orientation.

According to Rosemary Max, Director of International Programs for International Student and Scholar Affairs (ISSA), 380 international undergraduate and graduate students will be attending international student orientation this year, which is consistent with numbers in previous years.

Max said international student orientation differs from regular orientation in more than a few ways.

“Not only are we welcoming students to Notre Dame for the first time but often to the United States for the first time,” Max said. “Students are very far from home and in need of extra support. Also, international students learn about all of the immigration rules and regulations that are a part of their stay in the United States. It is a lot to take in for students who are new to the U.S.”

Events including workshops on maintaining one’s immigration status, the American healthcare system and adjusting to American culture and classrooms took place Aug. 17 and 18.

Max said that above all, she hopes that international student orientation will allow students to “feel welcome, to help them to make friends and to have them understand the great resources that are available to them on campus and in our community.” She said she considers it a valuable perspective for faculty, staff and fellow Notre Dame students to “appreciate the long journey these students have undertaken to come here both logistically and culturally and to give them a warm welcome to our campus.”

“Certainly being in a place very far from home where everything is new — the language, climate, country, food — is a challenge,” Max said, “But international students are courageous and talented and they will be successful here at Notre Dame.”

Max has also acted as a host mother to international students, including Fatou Thioune.

Thioune, originally from Senegal, had dreamed of coming to the United States for her undergraduate education since she was a child. She said she wanted to “broaden [her] perspective beyond the French education system and to get a very good higher education in one of the world’s most renowned institutions.”

“It became possible when I got the opportunity to study in an international school in South Africa where I got the opportunity to get into the English system and be fluent in the language,” Thioune said in an email. “I did not know much about Notre Dame before coming, because I couldn’t visit the school, and I didn’t know it growing up. But I chose it mainly because it is a Catholic institution and I attended three Catholic schools in Senegal and like the quality of education and their dedication to social service. I also decided to come because there are a few students from my high school here, so I already had a small community and a support system.”

Now a junior, Thioune is able to look back and recall the anxiety Max described.

“Coming to Notre Dame was my first time coming to the U.S., and my first time attending such a big school where I would be a minority,” Thioune said. “So I was anxious about every single aspect of my new life: social, academic, cultural. I was afraid I would not fit, that I would not make friends, that the new academic system would fail me, that I would face a severe culture shock, that I would be homesick for the next four years of my life and so on. I was afraid I would not be able to cope with all these challenges.”

Thioune found that international student orientation helped assuage her fears when she arrived on campus.

“International student orientation was a moment for me to let go of my anxiety by seeing so many people with whom I shared the same fears and confusion,” Thioune said. “Getting lost with other people, sharing the same thoughts, questions and concerns as other people, and most importantly, getting help and support from the International Ambassadors and the Notre Dame International office at large showed me that I wasn’t alone, that there were people I could relate to and people who would be there for me.”

Thioune said international student orientation was her introduction into the community spirit of Notre Dame.

“I particularly enjoyed meeting … the few students in our smaller group because that’s when I started knowing people on a personal level,” she said. “We did some icebreakers and from there, it was easy to just approach people and ramble about anything. That’s when I met my closest friend at Notre Dame now.”

Thioune said she believes the success of international student orientation lies in its ability to create a “support system” comprised exclusively of international students who are all experiencing the same challenges and new encounters at the same time.

“As much as freshman orientation offers the support as well, it doesn’t give much room for international students to ask questions and get answers about the simplest ways of life in the U.S., like why the bathroom doors are not closed off or how to get a phone plan,” Thioune said.

As far as advice for incoming international students, Thioune said she simply encourages them to “seek help.”

“People here are always willing to help, so you just have to go get that help,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask those questions about the simplest things ever, those simple things matter a lot to get adapted to the new way of life.”

Thioune also recalled a piece of advice her host mother imparted on her upon her initial arrival to Notre Dame.

“She told me that the key to having a great time in college is finding the right people for you,” Thioune said. “If you surround yourselves with the right people, you will feel comfortable, be inspired, have fun your own ways, resist peer pressure and, most importantly, make unforgettable memories. International orientation is an opportunity to find those right people for you. So [sieze] that opportunity and the many others coming.”

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About Andrea Vale

Andrea Vale is a freshman at Notre Dame who has previously written for both the Sun Chronicle and the Huffington Post. She plans to major in English with a Creative Writing concentration and a minor in Journalism.

Contact Andrea