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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Spotlight on the International Student Pre-Orientation Program

One writer explores how international student mentors support new international students when they arrive in Hanover.

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Arriving at Dartmouth for the first time garners both excitement and nerves. Understandably, the latter reigns supreme for many students who are not only coming to live in Hanover, but also in the United States, for the first time. The Class of 2027 is Dartmouth’s most geographically diverse in the College’s history, with students arriving from 75 different countries. This means that helping international students adjust culturally to Dartmouth is a growing concern. For international students, the International Student Pre-Orientation Program and International Student Mentoring Program attempt to facilitate a smooth transition to Dartmouth life and culture. 

To help international students deal with culture shock, ISPOP runs for three days before the beginning of New Student Orientation. During ISPOP, students are assigned a mentor — an older student who went through the program themselves, and attend sessions, classes and socials focused on preparing them for college in the U.S. After matriculation, these students participate in ISMP, which consists of meetings with a mentor group, as well as other events.

“[New international students] have all these things they have to attend, such as sessions about their visa, sessions with our Department of Safety and Security, a resource fair and more. Banks and other campus partners will come and talk about credit cards, sim cards, etc. We also host library tours and health services tours,” ISPOP and ISMP co-coordinator Claire Xu ’25 said.

While these sessions are of course critical to the program, Xu said that the most important facet of ISPOP revolves around social inclusion.

“I found the session about your visa super important and helpful,” she said.“But for me, it was about getting to meet new friends, and that there were people who were actually like me … I feel like if I hadn’t had ISPOP, I would have struggled a lot to find friends in the beginning.”

Mentor Constance Legrand ’25 echoed Xu’s sentiment regarding the relationships formed during ISPOP as the most lasting effect of the program, particularly noting the relationship with her own mentor and group of mentees.

“It can be very daunting, obviously, coming to a new school, especially if you’re an international student because [it’s] a whole new country — different norms, different pop culture,” Legrand said. “I think about how invested the mentors were, and how they were just so excited for us to be there and to get to know us. It makes you feel excited to be there and more comfortable in the space.”     

Legrand also highlighted how domestic students sometimes already know other incoming students, whether they are from their hometown, high school or are family friends. She stated that having a structured support system that provided advice from upperclassmen was important for her.

“It’s nice to have not only these upperclassmen that you know and can give you advice but also people in your mentee group,” she said.

Mentor Andrea Robang ’24 added that she knew of people whose friend groups originated during ISPOP. However, she said that more work could be done within the Dartmouth community to prevent harmful stereotypes surrounding international students due to cultural differences.

“Sometimes international students just don’t know much about social issues in the U.S. or cultural norms, and this can be seen as ignorant,” she said. “It would be nice to have a greater awareness that some people genuinely don’t know about these things and have never been exposed to these different perspectives before.”

Xu noted logistical and financial ways in which the international first-year student experience could be improved. Since many international students do not have family to help them move in like many domestic students do, Xu expressed desire for increased opportunities over winter break. She suggested that allowing international students to live with host families in Hanover over winterim would ameliorate issues that arise from traveling back and forth internationally. 

“I know winterim is pretty long for Dartmouth, but not all international students have the financial resources to go home, or even have stability within their home countries,” Xu said.

Despite some feedback, the consensus was overwhelmingly favorable towards the program. Mentors wear their title proudly, as the program illustrates the community’s commitment to supporting social connection and comfort for all of its members. All three mentors imparted advice to this year’s class of international students:

“Take the fullest advantage of Dartmouth that you can — go to office hours, engage with your professors,” Robang said. “Push past the bubble of like, ‘oh, I can’t do that because I don’t know what that is.’”

Xu emphasized that taking care of yourself is crucial to being happy at Dartmouth. 

“Give yourself a break sometimes,” Xu said. “Dartmouth students in general are super ambitious when they first come [to Dartmouth], and that [can] be very tiring on them, taxing them mentally. Sometimes it’s okay to just take a little break.”

Legrand highlighted the importance of staying connected to fellow international students.

“Stay in touch with [your mentee group]. Even though the term can get busy, I think there always is some sense of solidarity,” she said.“Also, if you’re a mentor, even if no one is responding to you, keep sending weekly messages and checking in with people. It’s nice to feel that support and feel like people are still looking out for you.”