The World Coming to Wheaton

Wheaton welcomes forty-six international students into the class of 2015. With the rapidly growing number of international students at Wheaton in recent years, it’s hard to believe that the graduating class from two years ago only had 6 international students. Every year, Wheaton’s Center for Global Education (CGE) makes developments to better welcome the new wave of internationals. The CGE organizes a pre-orientation a few days before regular orientation in the fall to help international students get settled in.  As an international student myself, I remember how key those first few days were to my adjustment to college. Not only did I learn about Wheaton, but I made important connections with other foreign students and campus resources that quickly made me feel part of a community.

It’s easy to overlook how difficult the move-in process can be when you’re moving in on your own from another country. You have nothing but a couple of suitcases, a funny accent and your precious F-1 student visa—as opposed to mom, dad and a carload of stuff. In the past, students have arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport in the middle of the night, after a 24-hour long transatlantic transit, only to shell out another hour and a hundred dollars on a taxi ride to a strange campus. For some, the welcome committee by default consisted of a kind and accommodating Public Safety officer, who would help you pick up your keys and drive you to your rooms if you arrived at night.

In the past few years, things have changed. Sarah Collins, a junior from the Netherlands feels that the year she came as a freshman was “the first year of big support for international students.” This fall, a handful of the students I had met during my own orientation volunteered as assistants for the CGE. Victoria Schuppert, a senior from Germany, drove the Wheaton van to and from the airport five times in one day, shuttling almost all the international students and teaching assistants, barely stopping to eat or rest. Sarah, a residential assistant, made sure to remind other RA’s during their training to make sure that all of their international residents had pillows and sheets, and knew where the dining halls were.  In addition, the CGE has also made many practical services more readily available for international students—getting a bank account, a phone, a social security number and taking a much needed trip to the nearby Target, all in just a few days after their arrival.

While the number of international students has increased, many students are yearning for more diversity. Out of the fifty new internationals, Wheaton’s freshmen class has twenty-seven Chinese students.  When asked to reflect on the positive and negative sides of the growing Chinese community on campus, Ke Feng, a junior from China shares, “You no longer feel lonely because people can understand you, but at the same time, it makes you rely more on your safe space and [you] don't want to reach out anymore. I guess everything has two sides.”

Other international students are also worried about the academic pressures at Wheaton.  Senior, Yuri Kamihagi of Japan emphasizes the need for outside help.   She hopes for specific writing tutors for international students, trained to understand why some students make the grammatical errors that they do. “Some Asian languages don’t have articles or the past tense and it can get hard to ask for help”, she explains. Other freshmen, for which English is a second language, also worry about getting all the required readings done in time. Slowly, Wheaton can better accommodate students that have grown up learning in different languages and school systems.

Despite varied concerns, international students are your average Wheaties.  They’re excited to pursue new activities, meet people, and hold on to their culture. Senior, Rim Amar, from Morocco explains some of the slight differences.  She states, “Our homesickness is different.”  We don’t have the luxury of seeing our parents,” Kachi Udeoji, a senior from Nigeria, shares about the international community, “We are each other’s family.”

This sense of community seems to have already spread to the first year students and bridges outside the international community. George Managadze, a freshman from Georgia shares with a smile, “I am very happy to have met so any people from different parts of the world. It is so exciting to be friends with them. I did not imagine Wheaton to be this good.”

Looks like we are headed in the right direction!

Photos provided by CGE and Kenya Bryant