International students will soon be greeted by their future peers when they land at a D.C. airport.
The welcome is part of a series of new approaches to improve the international student experience that will be rolled out over the next several months. Outgoing Student Association President Peak Sen Chua said the new initiatives – which also include a revamped international student ambassador program – will ensure international students feel like they are at home when they arrive in the United States.
“This is something I’ve always tried to center as part of my position as SA president,” Chua said. “Trying to ensure that international student voices are included in every single conversation.”
The ISO has traditionally assisted international students with their visas, but the new projects will expand international student programming within the office, Chua said. He said other universities offer similar services for freshmen and international students, but the engagement often doesn’t stretch beyond an initial greeting.
“We really wanted to see how we could make GW unique in this aspect where we’re being more intentional than other schools,” he said.
Jennifer Donaghue, the ISO director, said the airport welcome will be a pilot program beginning in the fall. ISO staff, the SA and student organizations will welcome the students, and officials are “exploring the feasibility” of setting up welcome booths with water and snacks at the airport.
“Our goal with this initiative is to provide a warm, friendly welcoming experience for international students as they step off the plane and embark on their collegiate career,” she said in an email.
She said the ISO will also offer a student-led peer advising initiative, called the International Student Community Ambassadors program, specific to international students. She said officials do not yet know how many students will need to be hired for the program, but the ISO will advertise the program on social media sites and career service platforms, like Handshake.
“International Student Community Ambassadors serve the entire GW international student population, supplementing acculturation, engagement and professional career services,” she said.
Donaghue added that the ISO hopes to soon launch a monthly email newsletter updating international students about upcoming deadlines, programs and events.
“This plan is to bring international student voices to the ISO and work with them to ensure that our input is reflected in the programs that they implement,” he said.
Chua said as an international student from Malaysia, improving the international student experience was key for him to create a more inclusive community for international students – which he said he had trouble finding as a freshman. He said the airport welcome is a highlight of the project because it will allow for incoming international students to have a smoother adjustment to an American school.
“We just want them to feel like when they land in the airport and they don’t know where to go, that GW is welcoming them,” Chua said. “From that point on, adjusting to campus and college life in a foreign country will be far easier.”
Chua said the ISO collaborated with the International Students Association and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association to facilitate discussions with administrators about the project throughout the academic year.
Avia Zhang, who served as the assistant director of international students in Chua’s cabinet and fills the same role in SA President Ashley Le’s cabinet, said the project will allow for international students to better acclimate to campus.
“GW has those resources, but sometimes GW is waiting for students to reach out to them,” she said. “It’s seldom to see that GW is reaching out to students proactively, especially international students.”
Zhang said she received an airport welcome from the Chinese Student Association when she was a freshman moving from China to start school. She said expanding the airport welcome to all international students will allow them to feel a sense of belonging when they start on campus.
“I felt very appreciative and safe – there was a sense of home, a sense of belonging right there,” she said.