Five takeaways from International Student Orientation
By Luke A. Widman | Echo
We pulled into a campus of warm brick buildings and large swaths of grass, all bathed in the Indiana sunshine. Despite the pleasant day, my stomach churned. This was college. After 19 years of living in West Africa, I was at a new school, in a new country, on a new continent. With new people. That was the really scary part—the strangers, all around me, hemming in my introvert personality.
Our van whisked past pine trees and park benches as we followed the cardboard signs that pointed to International Student Orientation (I.O.). We parked by the chapel’s curbside, where several student volunteers waved and greeted us.
That was the start of my International Student Orientation experience—a week of “cultural adjustment,” icebreaker activities and getting to know a campus that I first thought absurdly complicated, much to my current embarrassment. Hey, there was construction at the time.
To be perfectly honest, a lot of that week is a blur in my memory. Not because it wasn’t helpful, but because there were so many activities, so much adjustment and so many people. It was overwhelming, frankly. Part of that is just the normal beginning of college. However, many of the habits students form during orientation will stick with them throughout their time at Taylor. So let’s examine some of the habits I.O. helps students form.
1. Meet everyone
At I.O., the whole point is to make friends and influence people—erm, meet people, I mean. Really, this is important. Many I.O. friendships have stayed with me throughout my entire college career. Those friends have walked with me, wept with me and grown with me. However, at I.O., you’re also encouraged to “put yourself out there” and to meet everyone. This is valuable, but it’s also worth realizing that once you enter the day-to-day life of college, that’s actually impossible, especially for an introvert like me. And if you stretch yourself too thin, your relationships probably won’t run as deep.
2. Be involved in every activity
At orientation, you’re supposed to show up to every event. I certainly don’t want to encourage skipping things, as many of those events are truly fun and helpful. However, you can’t do everything during college. Once the school year starts, it’s worth taking time to slow down, walk in the woods and read a book or drink coffee with a friend—even if you have to miss occasional pick-a-dates, or, LTC forbid, Airband.
3. Learn the culture and introduce people to yours
This is a positive aspect of orientation. Various panels introduce students to the culture of the American Midwest, including customs like offering to pay for your driver’s gas money. Through various games and activities, students teach one another about their home cultures. As you adapt to Taylor, it’s important to remember that the Midwest has something to offer you, and you have something to offer the Midwest. Don’t be ashamed of where you come from.
4. Reach out to people
During I.O., students meet Taylor staff, international students, third culture kids and other members of the community. These people want to be there for you. Let them. Find a regular mentor—something I’m still actively trying to do. Start good conversations with people throughout your time at Taylor, and tell them about the struggles and joys of college and life.
5. Find balance
Here’s an extremely valuable takeaway from I.O.: college is a balancing act. Events and academics. Personal time and social life. You have to manage your priorities, which will feel overwhelming. Fortunately, you have four years to do this. If that doesn’t feel like enough, we’re all lifelong students, as our professors and parents so often remind us.
Remember the lessons you learned and the contacts you made during I.O. Consider your habits and judge for yourself whether they’re sustainable during college. Choose where you commit. And, most of all, give yourself time to adjust to this new culture, new school and these new experiences. No one expects you to have it figured out. So take a deep breath and relax. Welcome to Taylor.