A Willingness to Welcome

Photo illustration by Catherine Rafferty

On the grand scale, college life for a student in the mainstream eye can be pretty standard, even stereotypical. However, for international students there is a belief that their experiences and lives are dramatically different. Yet, that’s largely not the case. All students share commonalities to their experiences — the differences lie primarily in their extent.

It Starts with Arrival

“New students — domestic students — are scared coming to universities,” Fourth year Computer Science student Varnit Tewari, explained. “But, international people are even more scared [because they’re] coming from a different country, from a different world.”

Tewari is now on co-op and plans to pursue graduate school after finishing up his degree. However, he still remembers the feeling of coming to RIT as a new student. It was his first time traveling internationally and his only exposure to America was through popular culture.

Being from a smaller city in northern India, he did not know as many fellow international students from his region. But through International Student Orientation, he was able to meet many people from across the globe. Despite the jet lag, he stayed up until midnight chatting with new friends.

For Ph.D. student Anjali Jogeshwar, much of her anxiety was put at ease with one simple word.

When she first arrived in 2016, Uber and Lyft had yet to make their way to Rochester. Jogeshwar landed without any clear transportation to campus and no one to contact for help. Fortunately, Global Union was hosting a shuttle service between the airport and campus for international students at the time. Unbeknownst to Jogeshwar, it was a service students were supposed to sign up for in advance. But she approached the table anyway and asked if there was space on the shuttle to take her to campus. The student volunteer at the table said “yes.”

“That one yes was a huge deal for me then because I didn’t know anyone in Rochester,” Jogeshwar said. “I didn’t know who to go to and that guy was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll drop you off.’”

It was that willingness to welcome and accommodate that drove Jogeshwar to get involved with Global Union and with International Student Orientation.

“I wanted to give back that 'yes' to someone else someday,” she said.

"I wanted to give back that 'yes' to someone else someday."

Homesickness Hits Hard

Everyone wants to visit home as often as possible. As a domestic student, this can be difficult for a number of reasons, such as distance, scheduling or finances. International students experience these same strains, though often to an augmented degree.

For students like Jogeshwar and her roommate Nuzhet Ahamed, a Ph.D. student in the Microsystems Engineering program, it can be difficult to visit home often. They each attempt to visit once per year, though neither have been able to hold up to this perfectly.

For other students, such as third year Management major Gloria Berakah, time away has been a little longer. Originally from Cameroon, she and her family have lived in the United States for 12 years. While she can visit her immediate family three hours away, her extended family and childhood friends are more difficult to see. Berakah hasn’t been back to Cameroon since she left at eight years old.

“My parents tried [to visit Cameroon] when I was in high school sophomore year, but the plans didn’t go well,” Berakah said. “Something was happening in Cameroon and we weren’t financially prepared, so we decided to postpone it and it never happened.”

This has led Berakah to a feeling of separation from her home. She noted that she has to check in with others when people add her on Facebook as she can no longer remember the faces of her close friends. In fact, Facebook is also how she keeps in contact with most people from her childhood. She met her baby cousins through Facebook and learned their faces through photos posted to the website.

But Life Goes On

As with any student, one cannot restrict themselves to classwork and nothing more. Soumya Dayal, a second year Computer Science student, spends most of her time on the weekends reading.

“Even though I’m an extroverted person, most of the weekend I’m too lazy to get out of the house and I just keep reading,” Dayal laughed. “Not particularly books, but blogs or something [too].”

Tewari, meanwhile, came to college with a list of things to learn. In his time here, he’s learned how to play soccer and play the guitar. Now, his next goals are to learn to beatbox (he has a friend teaching him) and how to dance. He also spends his time teaching others.

“I have a squad of my [friends] and I’m the only international student in that squad,” Tewari said. “They come with me to Royal of India, I’ve cooked Indian food with them. They’re actually learning Hindi with me — I’m teaching Hindi to them every Tuesday.”

"RIT feels like home away from home."

Eventually, these students will graduate and their plans are just as wildly diverse as any group of students you could imagine. Ahamed, for example, wants to first learn the ins and outs of her industry. But that’s not her end goal.

“I personally want my final destination to be in academia,” she explained. “[I want to] be a professor or a researcher ... and interact with young minds [to] inspire them to do something great.”

Until then, Ahamed and others are still at RIT earning their degrees alongside their peers.

Proud of their Internationality

“RIT feels like home away from home,” Jogeshwar said.

Each of the international students spoken to have stated that domestic students have been welcoming and open-minded, which came as a relief to them and their friends. At RIT, a unique conglomerate culture has developed that shares the various aspects of many other individual cultures. This shared culture of acceptance and welcoming can lead to lasting friendships and fulfilling lessons.

As Berakah stated, “Don’t be afraid to try new things ... and step out of your comfort zone because you never know what you’ll see or who you’ll meet.”