Finding a home at Dartmouth

by Julia O'Sullivan | 1/17/17 2:00am

For many incoming freshmen, the trials and tribulations of transitioning into the college lifestyle are similar. Students miss their hometowns, parents, pets, friends and even pesky little siblings. After arriving on campus, new students will individually learn their preferred methods of adjustment with time: how often to call home, what days to do laundry, what to order at Lou’s. Many of these issues stem from the unfamiliarity of a new place and a new life. International students, who comprise eight percent of the undergraduate student body, deal with similar challenges. Though international students may have to learn how to navigate the sugar-rich American foods in the dining hall or may have to adopt new lingo, there is no one international student experience.

“Our international students are from so many different places and have so many different experiences that it isn’t always possible to distill that into a similar comment or a question,” said Danielle Hussey, assistant dean and advisor to international students at the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, said.

“International” is a broad term that comprises many different experiences. For example, some international students attended an American school in their country or even a high school in the United States. Some have spent a great deal of time in the U.S., while others have never stepped foot on American soil before arriving for Orientation. However, one challenge shared by almost all of the international students is navigating the complicated, ever-changing visa system. Hussey described the importance of the resources set up for this very purpose, highlighting the Office of Visa and Immigration Services.

“Marcia Calloway works there with the undergraduate students, and I would say she’s probably the person they know best at least in their first year ... they don’t have to know me, but they have to know Marcia,” Hussey said.

Obtaining a visa adds an additional source of stress to the already-involved preparations of attending college. Though many non-international students would not think of it as a primary challenge, for many it is. Julianna Thomson ’20, who hails from Canada and is a member of the women’s basketball, team can attest to this struggle and the importance of a resource like OVIS.

“As soon as I committed, I started looking into acquiring my student visa because I knew it was a lengthy and in depth process,” Thomson said. “OVIS does a great job of enabling future students with the resources they need to study in the United States.”

Though visa challenges are some of the most common, and OVIS works to assuage them, there are also many other resources and programs available for other adjustment challenges. An example of these programs is the International Student Orientation that occurs between the time of Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips and the beginning of classes. This particular program is in many ways similar to New Student Orientation, with segments on navigating the library or computing at Dartmouth. However, this program includes additional information such as using banks in the U.S. and navigating academics, matters that may differ from schools in other countries.

“[Orientation] gave me a valuable head start in terms of getting to know campus, meeting fellow international students and learning about various aspects of life at Dartmouth,” Jonas Stakeliūnas ’20, who is from Lithuania, said.

International Student Orientation serves as a time for any extra acclimation that the students might find necessary. Additionally, as Stakeliūnas pointed out, one of the primary functions of the orientation is to introduce the students to each other to form a community. This becomes increasingly valuable as many overseas students do not return home over breaks and might come together to eat meals when Dartmouth Dining Services closes over the vacation periods.

There is also the International Friendship Family Program that matches international students with families in the Upper Valley with the hope that they will participate in activities and spend quality time together. This family can act as a home away from home as well as a window into American family life and culture. Additionally, there is the International Student Mentor Program, which matches groups of eight to 10 international students with a mentor who was selected through a highly competitive process. There is even a Global Village Living Learning community for those who want to live in a more internationally-focused environment on campus. These groups can help students come together and share the difficulties of being an international student at Dartmouth.

Many international students will tell you it’s all in the little things.

“It’s really hard to get used to the different food here,” said Sonja Kowalzik, a German exchange student and a Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant. “The choices are kind of limited if you’re looking for something healthy. They don’t do healthy food that well, but they do unhealthy food really well.”

Even basic necessities such as food become points of adjustment for international students.

“I wouldn’t say most of my friends, but some of my friends, are international students, and it helps a lot to exchange the experience you have,” Kowalzik said.

Though each international student faces different challenges, and no two experiences are exactly the same. Through discussion and community, adjustments can be made and Dartmouth can finally become home.