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Behrend incorporates international students in annual welcome week

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8-27-2019

Jeremiah Hassel,News Editor

As summer draws to a close and the school year approaches again, incoming freshmen enrolled at Penn State Behrend flocked to campus for the annual welcome week celebrations, which started on Monday and went through Friday last week.

This year, Behrend administration incorporated an international student orientation, which allowed those from other countries travelling to Behrend to experience campus life and learn the requirements attached to their presence on campus.

“The University as a whole… wants to create a welcoming educational environment for all of our students, for every student that comes to Penn State Behrend,” said Andy Herrera, director of educational equity and diversity programs. “It’s part of our responsibility to make sure that we not only welcome our international students but also provide them with all the necessary information to get acquainted to campus in... all aspects of the academic experience, including academic issues, social, and in terms of resources available.”

In total, 115 international students enrolled this year, coming from over 40 countries to move in on Monday. They were treated to several information sessions and even a session with the generic freshman welcome week leaders and guides, including the welcome week student directors – seniors Ashley Sharpe and Angela Mattern.

“We have a day where our guides and leaders sit and talk to the international students and help integrate them into the whole thing,” said Sharpe. “For a lot of them, this is the first time they’ve been in America and talking to students here, so we have a have a little barbeque cookout to teach them about our traditions, like cornhole, ladder ball, and ninja and we had hamburgers and hot dogs. It was a lot of fun.”

The international students arrived on Monday, taking both Monday and Tuesday to acclimate themselves to American college life before joining the other students for orientation on Thursday, the official freshman move-in day.

During the former part of the week, the international students were housed in Perry Hall, which gave them the opportunity to move in with the other students on Thursday into their own designated residence halls.

“We have our offices, and then individually, they come to address whatever issues they have, particularly when it comes to issues relating to student life, or immigration issues, documentation, or things like that,” said Herrera. “We are very sensitive to making sure that our students are supported and if they feel that they have been harassed or discriminated, that they can address that with us, and then we will address it on a case by case basis.”

The number of international students who attend Behrend each year has been on a steady decline since the Trump administration took office in 2016. Harsher immigration laws and, more importantly, the threat of deportation, has kept many would-be students at bay. Herrera and others involved in the multicultural diversity of Behrend offer a multitude of services to those students in multiple offices across campus.

Sharpe and Mattern were then tasked with making the remainder of welcome week – for the incoming international, domestic, and immigrant freshmen – a fun and welcoming experience that both establishes a support system for the students and makes them feel comfortable with campus life.

Welcome week leaders were trained by Sharpe and Mattern in the week leading up to the move-in days and groomed to be the faces of Behrend to all new students, parents, and even returning students and faculty. Nittany Night Out among other activities organized for the freshman were made mandatory this year for the guides, which both Sharpe and Mattern believe boosted the overall morale of the week and of the incoming students.

“Having that kind of energy in the building was really beneficial for the first-year students,” said Mattern. “It really helped morale quite a bit.”

“That was one of our big goals this year was increasing our integration rate, getting our incoming students to connect with returning and older students,” said Sharpe.

Perhaps the most successful aspect of welcome week, however, was the integration between the incoming international freshman and the incoming domestic freshman on move-in day.

“Moving in on the same day together I think really helps start the conversation of, ‘Hey, let's be friends!’” said Mattern. “Overall, it was a good year all around.”