More than 400 international students welcomed at GVSU

GVL / Luke Holmes - International students chat in the lobby of the Murray International House.

Luke Holmes

GVL / Luke Holmes – International students chat in the lobby of the Murray International House.

Sanda Vazgec

Incoming freshmen won’t be the only new faces Grand Valley State University welcomes home this fall. The university will open its doors to more than 400 international students from 80 countries this year.

While transitioning to college can be difficult for any student, it can be especially difficult for those who have traveled from abroad. GVSU’s Padnos International Center (PIC) aims to help make the leap into college as smooth as possible for international students.

The center holds a week-long orientation program for international students to get acquainted with domestic students, GVSU’s campuses and American culture.

“We really want to help ease our international students into this new college experience they’re about to start,” said Libby Jawish, international student integration coordinator. “Connecting them with our domestic students plays a huge part in that.”

The international students are picked up from the airport upon their arrival by GVSU student mentors and taken to Meijer to buy immediate living needs such as bedding and self-care products.

Once the students move into their on-campus living centers, they begin a week full of events and programs designed to integrate them into all aspects of the university, community and culture.

International students begin their GVSU experience with a welcoming ceremony and introduction, then embark on a tour of campus, learn about the resources available to them and meet with returning international students.

“This year we significantly increased efforts to connect the new international students to current GVSU students and also with many downtown Grand Rapids locations,” said Kate Stoetzner, director of international student and scholar services. “Our main goal for orientation is to help the international students feel connected to the GVSU community.”

Peers Engaging and Exploring Programs and Surroundings (PEEPS) organize and facilitate activities and events for international students to participate in during orientation.

The students are taken on a tour of Grand Rapids and spend a day at Lake Michigan. They also participate in scavenger hunts, photo contests, sports socials and American food tasting activities to build community and learn about their surroundings.

“Fit the Mitt” is another program designed to connected international students to the community. During this event, students are able to meet with professors and community members to gain tips and advice for succeeding in the classroom and getting involved in the community.

Course loads for international students are the same as those for domestic students. They must take at least 12 credit hours at the university and are expected make satisfactory progress.

In order for an international student to be admitted, they must pass an English proficiency exam, show proof of funding and submit high school transcripts. International students can be admitted to undergraduate and graduate programs and may choose to be exchange students or enroll as degree-seeking students. The type of student they choose to be determines their length of stay.

The students continue to participate in events throughout the year after orientation is over. The PIC partners with various student organizations and community groups to bring many opportunities to learn about different cultures and give a chance for the international students to share their own cultures with others.

“Getting connected is not only a great experience for international students,” Jawish said. “The American students can also gain so much by getting to know our international students and learning about their cultures.”