International student orientation welcomes students to Notre Dame
Serena Zacharias | Friday, August 23, 2019
To help ease international students’ transitions to life at Notre Dame, the University held its annual International Student Orientation Thursday and Friday, welcoming 200 undergraduates and another 150 family members to campus.
Leah Zimmer, director of International Student and Scholar Affairs (ISSA), said ISSA has been welcoming international students formally since its founding in 1969, and over time, international student orientation developed as a result of this tradition.
While all incoming freshmen face the challenge of adjusting to a new life at Notre Dame, Zimmer said international student orientation addresses the difficulties of moving to a new country as well.
“International student orientation focuses on the unique elements of the student experience for students who have spent most of their life outside of the U.S. or who are here to study with a specific student visa status,” Zimmer said. “For both groups, the adjustment to U.S. culture and Notre Dame culture can be challenging in a different way, so we want to give them an opportunity to connect with others who have this shared experience.”
Zimmer said the orientation not only focuses on creating a strong sense of welcome and connection but also provides students with technical information, including the responsibilities students have as an F or J visa holder and the process of setting up a United States phone and bank account.
ISSA also appoints a group of upperclassmen international students each year to lead activities for the freshmen and serve as a point of contact for any questions they may have.
“The highlight of our orientation is the role our International Ambassadors (IAs), a student leadership team, play in welcoming and engaging new students,” Zimmer said. “The IAs have been communicating with incoming students all summer, and we dedicate a few hours at orientation for them to lead engaging conversations and activities with small groups of new students.”
He Duan, a junior who is originally from China but grew up in Zimbabwe, reflected on his international student orientation as a worthwhile experience that helped his transition to life at Notre Dame as a freshman.
“International orientation was a great experience where I was able to very quickly become assured of the presence of various resources I could utilize to better fit in at Notre Dame through the breakout sessions,” Duan said. “The friendly international ambassadors at the time also gave me a lot of useful advice and help during the orientation, and I remain friends with some of them to this day, showing the value of the IAs reaching out and making connections.”
While international student orientation only spans two days this year, Duan said his role as an International Ambassador extends beyond the orientation.
“During the academic year, we are present to assist and promote Notre Dame International’s various events and foster an increased sense of community and engagement within international students and act as a resource for them for concerns they may have,” Duan said.
The undergraduates attending orientation include degree-seeking F1 visa holding freshmen, non-degree exchange and American semester abroad program students and United States citizens who have spent much of their lives outside the country. When she was a freshman, junior Mackenzie Winton fell into the last category, having lived all over the world for 13 years — including western Australia, Lagos, Nigeria, Jakarta, Indonesia and Surrey, United Kingdom.
“I attended international orientation because although my passport says I am American, I hadn’t lived in the United States since I was a small child,” Winton said. “International orientation allowed me to connect with other international students and reacquaint myself with life in what should be my home country.”
While Winton already felt fairly accustomed to American culture, she said she still enjoyed the opportunity to attend international orientation and found the experience invaluable.
“I grew up attending international schools where more than 60 nationalities are represented. Initially, I was worried about attending college in the U.S. because I thought I would miss the international community I had been a part of for so long,” Winton said. “Attending international orientation was like coming home.”
While international student orientation primarily focuses on helping international students adjust to life at Notre Dame before the rest of the student body arrives on campus, Zimmer said she particularly enjoys the orientation for its role in welcoming new international students who will bring different perspectives and experiences to campus.
“If you are going to move across the world to live for a year or four years, you often have to have curiosity about the world and people, paired with a sense of adventure,” Zimmer said. “I always appreciate the insights our international students have on community and engagement, and I look forward to seeing the ways their perspectives and curiosity continue to shape our community in powerful ways.”