Of the 374 first-year students joining the Centre College community this fall, 36 are arriving from locations across the globe. Representing a trend in an increasing number of international students enrolling at Centre, the 30 degree-seekers (from China, Vietnam, Germany and Canada) and six exchange students (from Japan, Spain, England and Northern Ireland) are the largest group of international students the College has ever welcomed.
To ensure that these students have more time to adjust and get acculturated to life in their new home, Centre offers an International Student Orientation before classes begin, a supplemental program to the general New Student Orientation, in which all first-years participate. This summer’s program for international students was the longest it has ever been, constituting a full week of activities before general orientation activities commenced.
“Orientation is kind of like drinking out of a fire hose,” International Student Advisor Stephen Swan explained. “The goal is to get more information to them over a longer period of time.
“When international orientation is extended, we see more participation from students earlier on,” he continued. “It’s a little more time and money, but it really benefits the students’ social and academic progress.”
Among the orientation activities, sample classes were offered to ease the academic transition. Many international students relocate from very different education systems in which class participation, for instance, is not as encouraged as it is in the U.S., and many topics (such as the humanities) have never been covered. Visiting Instructor of Spanish Maria Galvan’s class focused on the humanities, classroom expectations, group activities and participation. Assistant Professor of Psychology Jennifer Goetz’s class featured cultural psychology and adjustment, particularly helping students set realistic expectations about their personal adjustment processes as well as pairing students together to do work. Coordinator for Engaged and Experiential Learning and Assistant Professor of Education Ellen Prusinski taught experiential learning and explained its importance and benefits.
While taking care of logistical needs and getting a jump-start on academics is important, International Orientation also offers insight into activities beyond essays and exams. Students were able to take care of tasks, such as getting their phones set up, signing up for a U.S. bank account and visiting the Writing Center.
“A lot of international students see college as a purely academic experience in the classroom,” Swan said. “I don’t think that’s true; there’s a huge advantage to learning outside the classroom and through real-world experiences.”
To help students make that adjustment, they met with the Student Life Office to learn about campus events, had sessions with the Student Activities Council and Student Government Association and were encouraged to explore Centre’s wealth of more than 70 student-led organizations and Greek life.
“These activities really enhance, not hinder, academic experience,” Swan continued. “It’s a great time to meet new friends, gain leadership experience and skills that you can never get from a book.”
As a group, the students also participated in fun activities such as game night, taking a charter bus to Louisville to visit the mall, watching a pro soccer game and bowling. One highlight included a cookout with s’mores at Brockman Commons, an example of cultural experiences that many locals might take for granted.
Several different nuances to which international students must adjust, Swan described, are life in the West, in America, in Kentucky, in Danville and at Centre. The College strives to make the transition even smoother by having “host families” for the students to interact with, making it a much more personal experience by connecting students with faculty, staff, peers and the overall community early and often. This year 21 host families volunteered, seven of which were Centre faculty and/or staff.
International student Yuqian Dai from China reflected that her Orientation Leaders were very patient and willing to answer her questions, and she enjoyed learning about college life in America and taking the sample classes.
“The most impressive thing,” she said, “was meeting my host family. They made me feel more comfortable with Danville, and they are glad to share their experiences with me and help me as much as they can.”
The investment in Centre’s international students will allow them to get the most out of their time at the College, further supporting the school’s mission to cultivate lifelong learners and global citizens.
“We walk them through what their Centre Experience can be, the resources and opportunities at their disposal, and tell them to run with it,” Swan said. “It’s very empowering to be given command over your future and to have help doing it.”
Pictured above: International students visit Louisville, Ky.
by Elise L. Murrell
September 9, 2015