Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Welcoming international students with new initiatives

According to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, more than three million students are now attending colleges and universities outside their home countries, and more than 670,000 students from abroad are enrolled on U.S. campuses. That booming trend is reflected at Wheaton in the 40 percent increase in enrollment of new international students that the college experienced last year.

Global Center for Education Dean Alfredo Varela, center associate director Jill Ostrowski, and the staff are paying close attention to that growth and working to make sure that international students are easily integrated into the campus and local community, right from the moment they arrive.

The center has been developing new programs and creative initiatives to do that for the college’s 130 international students.

“Working closely with international students to help them make a seamless transition and getting them more involved in the fabric of our community enhances their experience here,” Varela says. “It also benefits others on campus, socially, academically and intellectually, because they bring so much to the table—offering new perspectives to the discussions in the classroom and beyond.”

One new approach that began last year involves a coordinated pickup of every international student at Boston’s airport. “We communicate with them in advance so that they can schedule their air travel and arrival accordingly,” says Varela. “We help them with luggage and provide them with future travel tips to get from Boston to campus, hoping to save them additional travel cost.”

The student orientation advisors who help are often themselves students from abroad or domestic students who have lived or studied overseas.

International students are invited to campus before the rest of the first-year students arrive so they can get settled. This year during the early orientation, student volunteers led playful team-building activities in the Dimple that were designed to create peer connections and teach the incoming students about the importance of getting support from others, as well as providing it.

Once the international students have settled in and started their classes, the center also provides opportunities for them to take part in programs and events on and off campus, notes Ostrowski, international student advisor.

Wheaton’s recent increase in international students is the result of ongoing efforts by the global center and the Office of Admission to spread the word about the college overseas. Wheaton also has been participating in the Davis United World College Scholars Program.

While Wheaton still draws a number of students from Europe, Latin America, Africa and elsewhere, according to Varela, the college is seeing greater interest among students from Asia, particularly China and Vietnam.

Frances Feng ’13, a sophomore majoring in international relations, is originally from Beijing. She says that the global center programs helped her feel at home when she first arrived on campus last year.

“They offer good advice, organize great events, and check with us regularly,” she says.

Most of all, Feng says she appreciates the academic opportunities offered by the center. “I always dreamed about going to Africa, and my dream came true when I took part in the Wheaton Tanzania program, a pilot course that helped me finally realize who I am and what education means to me.” [See story about the course in Tanzania on page 10.]

Yuri Kamihagi, a junior from Japan, says he appreciates the continued supportive atmosphere offered by the global center. “The center also made it possible for me to study abroad in Bhutan,” he says, noting that the experience has been a positive and intellectually rewarding one.

About Randell Kennedy

Randell J. Kennedy is a higher education consultant who frequently writes about the liberal arts, science and engineering.