A welcoming smile doesn’t need translation

by Staff

Glenn Connelly / Photo Editor

Stepping off a plane after 20 hours of traveling, people frantically bumping into each other in a rush, loud voices echoing on the intercom; it’s easy to see how lost a foreign exchange student can be when arriving in America – alone. San Diego State’s International Student Center, along with the International Student Association, works hard to make sure all of the exchange and international students – approximately 1,600 – have a smooth transition and a great experience here.The ISC provides pre-arrival advising to students to help them set up their WebPortal, get their immunizations, buy health insurance and find housing in San Diego.When the international students arrive in San Diego, the ISC hosts an International Student Orientation. This day is full of social icebreakers, lunch and information that the students will need, such as visa information and ways to adjust to the culture shock.Sarah Clinton, the ISC’s programs coordinator, works with the international students by putting together fun social events and helping them on a personal level. “We communicate with our students each week via the ISC Announcements,” Clinton said. “Students can meet with one of our three advisers regarding any issues they may have during their time here. “We try to make sure our international students always know that someone at the ISC can help them with any issues they may have, and we try to provide a home base for students where most of their needs can be met.”The ISA is composed of students from all over the world who run for office positions and can join as representatives or members with elections held each semester. They plan fun events to help the international students meet new people and make close connections. For example, they plan fun trips such as a tour around San Diego, a group trip to the San Diego Zoo and whale watching. They also have an annual prom called the International Peace Village, which is intended to let the international students experience a very American tradition.”The International Peace Village gave me the opportunity to show other people about my country,” international student Haley Nguyen said.Nguyen is the community service/outreach officer for ISA, where she helps plan community service events. She says it’s been really fun and that besides improving her leadership and networking skills, she has made some great friends.The newly elected president of ISA is Jakub Goralski, a Polish international security and conflict resolution graduate student. “We all have the same goal in mind, which is promoting internationalism, cultural awareness and international goodwill and promoting programs that benefit our diverse student community that has an interest in international issues,” Goralski said. Goralski said his favorite thing about ISA is the camaraderie and similar interests he has found in people with such different backgrounds. “It is very comforting to know that you always have somebody to talk to when you feel homesick or lost,” he said. “Or somebody that has already been through it and knows how to deal with it.” Another way that the SDSU campus tries to create a comfortable environment for foreign students is the “International House,” or also known as the I-House, which is located within the on-campus dorms Villa Alvarado. The I-House is supposed to consist of 50 percent Americans and 50 percent international students to help with the immersion. “I expected to meet more Americans in the I-House but I have still made great friends here nonetheless,” history major and Swiss exchange student Daniel Bekcic said. Bo Ekenstam, a science in engineering physics and Swedish exchange student, chose to live off campus for his two semesters at SDSU.”It was not my first time moving somewhere by myself so it wasn’t really that big of a deal for me,” Ekenstam said. “I’m glad I don’t live on campus – too many regulations.”Although Ekenstam has enjoyed his time in San Diego, and currently loves his Pacific Beach residence, something he’s noticed in America is that everywhere he goes someone is there to ask for identification and information. He said he feels uncomfortable, as though everything he has done in America has been stored in some database.A very popular tradition at the ISC is hosting “Coffee Hour,” a lunch gathering, from noon to 2 p.m. every Friday. Each week is themed with a different culture such as Serbian, Chinese and Egyptian. It gives the students a chance to try something new and experience other cultures. People from all over the world with so many different backgrounds are tied together through SDSU. Throughout all of the ups and downs that foreign students face, the challenges usually seem to be well worth it. Goralski described his experience here in San Diego as amazing.”That’s all there is to say – simply heaven on earth.”