International students look back at introduction to Yale

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The Orientation for International Students program allowed Bruno Jednacak ’20 to meet other new students who "were going through the same process that I was."

Adjusting to college life can be a challenge for any student, but this is particularly true for international students, who face the additional obstacle of adjusting to a foreign culture. The Yale Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) offers support and guidance through this process — helping  students with everything from filling out visa paperwork to exploring New Haven.

This year, Yale and OISS welcomed 1,052 new international students to campus from 92 different countries. Among them are 183 Ph.D., 116  master’s degree, and 119 non-degree students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; 173 first-year and 21 visiting students in Yale College; 176 M.B.A. and M.A.M. students and 10 exchange students in the School of Management; and 254 students in the remaining graduate and professional schools. With the addition of these new students, Yale’s total international student enrollment for the fall 2016 semester reached 2,635 students, the largest in Yale’s history.

Most international Yale College freshmen begin their experience at Yale with the week-long program Orientation for International Students (OIS). Sponsored by OISS and run by a team of international upperclassmen counselors, OIS is designed to ease the stresses of adapting to a new culture and help students make a successful transition to Yale. Counselors guide students through a range of activities and discussions, and help them settle any logistical issues, from opening a new bank account to choosing a cell phone plan.

“My favorite part of OIS was definitely meeting people,” said Bruno Jednacak, a Yale College freshman from Croatia. “It was an opportunity to meet people that I think are closer to me culturally because they are from all different parts of the world and they were going through the same process that I was.”

 “OIS involved a lot of icebreaker games,” said Jednacak. “[The counselors] didn’t let us do anything by ourselves, which was good for shy students, who might have found it hard to approach people on their own.”

Several students echoed Jednacak’s sentiments. Tuan Nguyen, a Yale College sophomore from Vietnam who is now an OIS counselor, noted that the friendships he had formed at OIS as a freshmen have lasted throughout his time at Yale.

“Last year, OIS was an amazing opportunity for me to adjust to Yale and build strong friendships with other international students who shared many of my concerns about academics, social life, and the available resources,” he said. “I personally feel that OIS allowed me to establish and to find a close groups of friends whom I can always refer to.”

As an OIS counselor, Nguyen said he enjoyed helping students like Jednacak navigate their first days at Yale.

“It was absolutely amazing to sit down with the new international students, listen to their backgrounds and stories from all around the world, try to alleviate their concerns about life at Yale — knowing that these were my own concerns just one year ago — and feel invigorated by the amount of fresh energy these students are bringing to campus,” he said.

Graduate students undergo a separate, shorter orientation process, but face similar challenges and opportunities in their first semester at Yale.

Sidal Öner first came to the United States from Turkey in 2008 through the Fulbright Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders Program. Now at Yale as a one-year Fulbright foreign language teaching assistant in Turkish, she said she has not faced as many surprises as other students who have never been to the United States; however, she was happily surprised by the extent of Yale’s cultural events and programs.

“I am really glad to be in such an atmosphere … there are so many cultural events that you can join in or attend,” Öner said. “I also love the system at OISS. They respect all cultures, and they try to treat each equally.”

Öner noted that one highlight from her first semester at Yale was participating in OISS’s Thanksgiving at Home program, which arranges for international students to join a local families at their home for the holiday.

“My Chinese friend and I were matched with [a local woman], and we went to Milford to her house in order to experience Thanksgiving. It was amazing for me because I know that next year I won’t be here and I didn’t want to miss my chance to experience the holiday,” Öner explained.

Grant Mandigora, a graduate student originally from Zimbabwe who is enrolled in the master’s program at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, also expressed appreciation for OISS and its many programs. Mandigora is a part of the Community Friends program, which matches students with local hosts, who help introduce students to U.S. culture and the New Haven area.

Mandigora said the information on OISS’s website was extremely useful to him when he was preparing to come to Yale.

“I followed a lot of the newsletters that OISS posted online and before I came, I looked at every last thing on their website,” he recalled. “I think there’s a lot of really helpful information there, in terms of getting you up to speed on things like visas and other issues.”

Mandigora was originally drawn to Yale because of the unique structure of the Jackson Institute’s degree program and the quality of the academics.

“The master’s program in global affairs offers a lot of flexibility, and when I was looking for a program, I was looking something that would specifically fit my interests. I’m interested in energy, but I’m not an engineer, and trying to find a program that fit that was pretty much impossible. So when I saw that with the Global Affairs program, I can take energy courses, as well as courses at the School of Forestry & Environmental Sciences and the School of Management, and build my own concentration, it was an easy sell,” he said.

For Mandigora, as for other students, there are more semesters and experiences to come. “So far, so good,” he said.

For more information about OISS and its programs, visit the OISS website.

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