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Freshman International Students Arrive Today

Orientation helps in navigating a new world

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Abhijeet Shirsat (SPH’11) says that among the things he learned at last year’s orientation for new international students was that participation in class was expected, unlike his experience back home in India. Photo courtesy of Abhijeet Shirsat

Arriving on the BU campus for the first time can be a daunting experience for any student. But imagine not only having to find your dorm room and classes, but having to communicate in a language that is not your native tongue, having to use an unfamiliar currency, and having to make your way in a culture vastly different from your own.

That’s the challenge facing the 503 international freshmen arriving today as members of the Class of 2014. More than 100 come from China, 94 from South Korea, 51 from India. In fact, BU’s arriving international students represent virtually every corner of the globe, and all of them will come together at this week’s Freshman Orientation program.

“We focus on connecting them right away to other students,” says Shiney James, director of orientation. “Developing a peer support group as quickly as possible is really important.”

To ensure that the new international undergraduate students have a smooth transition to the BU community, the International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) is sponsoring a special orientation event as well, on Friday, August 27, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the College of General Studies Sleeper Auditorium, 871 Commonwealth Ave.

The mandatory session offers practical advice for international students in several areas. Students first learn how to navigate the U.S. classroom, which can be surprisingly different from classrooms in other countries. “We talk about different teaching methods, and the importance of classroom participation,” says ISSO director Jeanne Kelley. “Here, classroom participation can often be a significant factor in determining a student’s grade. But in many cultures it is not emphasized, and in some cultures it’s even discouraged.”

Case in point: Abhijeet Shirsat (SPH’11). When he arrived at BU last fall, Shirsat says, he was unaware until orientation that class participation was expected. As an undergraduate in his native Mumbai, India, he was graded only on oral and written exams. “This was new to me,” he says.

During the special orientation event, students are also tutored in the nuances of the U.S. health care system. They’re given information on how to find a doctor, how to choose health insurance, and how to use that insurance to pay for health services.

And there’s advice about how to handle the inevitable culture shock. Shirsat suggests that new students spend as much time as possible talking to their American counterparts to master the slang and catchphrases they were never taught in their English lessons back home.

Finally, students are given a quick tutorial in immigration: how to maintain their lawful immigration status, how to fill out the required paperwork, and what other responsibilities they have while studying in this country.

Boston University ranks ninth in the nation in international students, with more than 5,200, and Kelley says the University is hoping to grow that number by approximately 3 percent this year. “So much of the University curriculum is internationally focused,” she says, “that it’s a wonderful opportunity for U.S. students to be able to learn from their international classmates.”

ISSO will host a similar orientation for incoming international graduate students on Tuesday, August 31, also at Sleeper Auditorium.

Regardless of whether international students are here as undergrads or to pursue advanced degrees, Kelley’s advice remains the same: “I encourage them to get involved outside of the classroom. It’s not all about studies. They’re also here for the experience. And there’s something here for everyone.”

The International Student Orientation for Undergraduates will be held Friday, August 27, from 3 to 5 p.m., at Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, 871 Commonwealth Ave. The International Student Orientation for Graduate Students will be held on Tuesday, August 31, from 3 to 5 p.m., at the same location.

In addition, an International Student Welcome Reception will take place on Wednesday, September 1, from 6 to 8 p.m., in the Trustee Ballroom, Metcalf Trustee Center, One Silber Way, ninth floor.

John O’Rourke can be reached at orourkej@bu.edu.

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