Programs aim to ease transitions, celebrate culture
Boarding a plane in her home country of Ghana, bound for the U.S., Nana Annan could feel her heart beating. She was embarking on a journey that would take her thousands of miles away.
About to begin graduate school at Penn State Harrisburg, Annan faced challenges big and small. However, excitement soon replaced her nervous feelings as she realized the adventures awaiting her and she wasted no time getting involved.
Penn State Harrisburg has experienced a surge in international enrollment, from 70 students in 2008 to more than 370, representing 38 countries, in 2014. As the college has worked to expand support for these students, one thing is clear: the programs help bring together the entire college community.
The Global Lion Ambassador and Global Lion Mentor programs, for example, help to unite the campus and the surrounding community. The ambassador program encourages student leaders to build relationships on campus and in the community and to participate in friendship-building activities. The mentor program, created by Ana Patricia (Patty) Aguilera, a Penn State Harrisburg doctoral student from Mexico, helps make the transition easier by connecting new international students with American students and returning international students.
“Having a mentor allowed me to have a friend before ever arriving in America,” Annan said.
Iranian student Amir Sodeifi who serves as a Global Lion Ambassador recently was able to attend a gathering in Lancaster County. There he met both American and Iranian friends from the local community.
Anna Wei Marshall, Penn State Harrisburg’s international student advisor, organizes many of the programs for international students. She acknowledges that cultural and language barriers can resonate inside and outside the classroom, so programs in which American students and community volunteers work together are important.
“Because I was an international student myself, I can relate to the students. I am here to serve them, but I have found there is so much I can learn from them,” she said.
New student orientation, during which international students learn about campus and community resources and get personalized advising sessions on government rules, employment options, and cultural and language adjustment, is another beneficial program.
“Leaving my family in India was the hardest thing, but I knew it would be tough,” said sophomore Lakshmi Chirmamilla. “The orientation program helped make my transition much easier and helped me make friends quickly.”
But it’s not only programs uniquely for international students that help them feel at home at Penn State Harrisburg. Programs open to the entire college community have helped students like In Haeng Lee adjust to life far from her home country of South Korea.
“The Learning Center on campus has worked with me on improving my English. Tutors are friendly and really willing to help,” Lee said. “We don’t just talk about class assignments and papers, but also cultural experiences and social life. I love the Learning Center!”
Some campus programs bring a little piece of home to college for international students and give students an opportunity to showcase their home countries. Events like Lunch with an International Flavor, International Coffee Hour, the Lunar New Year Celebration, and the Indian Holi festival showcase the traditions important to many cultures on campus.
As the college’s international population continues to grow, these programs will continue to help students become an integral part of the campus identity and add to the college’s rich diversity. Available to international and non-international students, the programs share a common goal: to present an environment where students with diverse backgrounds can build meaningful interaction and prepare to be global citizens.