For many international students like me, Colonial Inauguration is their first time on campus. The three-day program right before school starts is limited to transfer and international students, which led me to only making friends with other students from my country.
A few months ago, GW announced changes to CI. Starting this summer, CI will be held more frequently, for shorter periods of time and will not include parent programs. These changes are intended to reduce costs for families and increase the program’s focus on academics. But although changing the structure of CI might reduce costs, it doesn’t tackle an important aspect of orientation – creating a community of both domestic and international students.
CI for domestic students will still be held in June and the one for international and transfer students will be right before the start of the fall semester. But that’s a mistake because it doesn’t promote an inclusive community for domestic and international students and can make adjusting to U.S. college life more difficult.
Separate CI sessions for domestic and international students don’t help build community among freshmen. Instead, it leaves international students feeling isolated. Officials should move CI for all students to the week before classes begin so incoming freshmen can be orientated to campus together – regardless of where they are from.
As an international student, I know how easy it is to keep to students of your own nationality rather than making friends with domestic students. It feels more comfortable, especially when you’ve just left your home and are in an environment that is completely unfamiliar. But because of this natural inclination to find people we already share experiences with, international students need a push outside our comfort zones to meet American peers, and CI should be the place to do that.
By moving CI to the week before the fall semester begins, students from anywhere in the world would only have to travel to the University once and meet their entire class at the same time. Nine of our peer schools, including Georgetown University and New York University, have one orientation program for all students before the start of classes. Apart from its effectiveness at integrating domestic and international students, it’s less of a financial burden for students to attend CI in August than in June because they don’t have to make several trips to D.C.
The current CI structure didn’t promote a feeling of belonging or bonding with Americans for me and my international friends. Apart from details about immigration and jobs, the international CI session didn’t emphasize the unique experiences for international students at GW – like the reality of culture shock.
CI staff could organize its two-day CI sessions in the week leading up to the start of classes and provide any additional programming to international students after the two-day session for all students. This would include sessions on maintaining immigration status and visa information, information about working and interning as international students, specific counseling services and other resources on campus to deal with transition to college as an international student, while also meeting peers from the U.S.
Of course, CI has a limited amount of resources, and it’s only supposed to be a snapshot into GW. But if international and domestic students could learn about each groups’ struggles and experiences, there would be a better chance of us becoming closer. To focus on integrating domestic and international students, it’s important to have more international students in the Colonial Cabinet because they can understand and empathize with international students. Their experiences in transitioning to GW gives them a better understanding of how to build a more inclusive community of domestic and international students.
Student organizations could also have a more active role in CI if it was days before school started. More groups are likely to be on campus early so that they can reach out to students, and incoming freshmen would get a better feel of what campus atmosphere is really like. Plus, it allows incoming freshmen to have a smoother transition to college with an earlier move-in and more time to get settled before classes start.
CI is the first event that international students experience after getting accepted to GW. It’s important for international students to get a real look at GW and meet their domestic classmates right off the bat.
Shwetha Srinivasan, a junior double-majoring in economics and international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.