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Home away from home

November OISS programs support inclusion, success of international community

“I still have vivid memories of clambering up the front steps of my dorm, my arms laden with two heavy suitcases, trying not to appear as though I had taken three flights and a Greyhound bus to get there,” began Chamath Chandrasekera, in the award-winning narration of his life at the University of Delaware. “Nonetheless, I was thrilled to be in the U.S. and fulfilling my dream of pursuing my higher education here.”

For more than 3,300 international students, Chandrasekera’s memories are familiar, although each has their own unique story of departing, leaving behind family and friends, arriving to a strange place full of promise, and subsequently making that place home.

Hundreds of international scholars, researchers and instructors at the University, and their families also share a similar experience.

The Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS), whose primary role is to support the immigration advising needs of the international community, also designs and implements a comprehensive series of more than 100 programs each year aimed at celebrating the international story at UD and designed to help nurture student and scholar academic, cultural and social success.

November, Global Month at UD, has featured an array of such events.

The month began with a special installment of the office’s weekly International Coffee Hour on Nov. 11 sponsored by the Institute for Global Studies’ Delaware Diplomats. Close to 300 members of the University community attended, mingled, and introduced themselves to others as a showing of solidarity after the presidential election.

“We at UD remain as committed as ever to our international community’s success and experience here, and will continue to maintain a welcoming, inclusive and internationally-friendly environment,” said Ravi Ammigan, director OISS and interim associate deputy provost for international programs.

On Nov. 18, OISS announced the winners of its fourth annual International Student Essay Contest, for which Chandrasekera took first place and a prize of $750. The essay contest is co-sponsored by the Division of Student Life.

As winners were welcomed on stage, guests of the event were invited to see a glimpse of their American life.

Xueyao Liang, a freshman history education major, recounted conquering the unexpected “storms” of mis-translated words, homesickness and the challenges of making new friends.

“The journey of being a Blue Hen has been the greatest blessing in my life,” she said. “From knowing nothing about the state of Delaware to now becoming a die-hard fan of Wawa and Brew Ha Ha, from the constant struggle of adjusting cultural and language differences to holding lengthy conversation with professors and friends, this has been a journey filled with every day surprises.”

Ugo Nsofor, a doctoral student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, spoke also of his first few months in transition. “Initially, I had eagerly anticipated the winter because I wanted to experience snowfall,” he said. “Little did I know that such experience would come at the expense of five months of freezing temperatures. My so-called winter jackets and fur-coats were acquired with my prior notion of cold weather.”

Nsofor, who had grown up in always-warm Nigeria, quickly adapted to the sometimes frigid Delaware weather.

Each of the winning essays is available in full online.

Just as UD’s American community got a taste of the international student life, the international community later got to try out the uniquely American tradition of Thanksgiving.

On Nov. 20, over 350 international students, scholars, and their family members filled the Embassy Suites for the holiday feast complete with turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberries, green beans and pumpkin pie.

Each also took a moment to reflect on what they are most thankful for by writing on each table’s centerpiece – branches lined with paper leaves.

“I’m most thankful for UD, for having given me an opportunity to come and study, and for my family for supporting me,” said Justine Yego, a Kenyan master’s student in the College of Education and Human Development’s educational technology program.

“It is through events like tonight’s Thanksgiving dinner, the weekly coffee hour, the essay contest, field trips, and the many workshops and sessions we organize each year that we try to help our international students and scholars adjust to the local community and be successful in their programs at UD,” said Ammigan in his opening address.

Thanksgiving Dinner with OISS is co-sponsored by the Retreat Newark.

Tomorrow, 78 international community members will also spend Thanksgiving Day with some 29 host families, who have volunteered to open up their homes for this special event.

Throughout the 2015-16 year, OISS programs and events have been attended more than 6,000 times. These events, co-sponsored by campus departments and community organizations, connect international students and scholars to others who they might not otherwise have the chance to meet.

“We are grateful to OISS because they make us feel like this is our home away from home,” said Juliet Wachira. “We like the way people are open to conversation, we make new friends, and it’s just awesome. Sometimes I never miss home because I feel at home already.”

For more information on the international community, visit the OISS website, which provides comprehensive information and resources on how to navigate issues that are common to international students and scholars in the United States, and follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Those with questions or inquiries on OISS programs are welcome to contact Travis Pocta, programming coordinator at OISS, or to call 302-831-2115. 

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