THE VOICE

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International students get time to adapt

By Julie Ooms

In years past, international students have arrived at Dordt College tired, jet-lagged, nervous about interviews, and preparing for opening week activities with little time to rest and get used to a new school and culture. This year, however, Sanneke Kok, the coordinator of academic services for international students, and her colleagues tried something different: an international student orientation (ISO).

Some of Dordt's international students joined Sanneke Kok ( left) and Valerie Gorter, coordinator for international students (fifth from left), for this photo. The students quickly formed a close bond with each other.

Some of Dordt's international students joined Sanneke Kok ( left) and Valerie Gorter, coordinator for international students (fifth from left), for this photo. The students quickly formed a close bond with each other.

The idea came from Alied Boerema, herself an international student. Boerema, a Dordt graduate from Holland now pursuing her master’s degree, did an internship on campus last spring. She surveyed international students about their experiences and found that many of them want more orientation before they are immersed in the academic and social aspects of life at college.

Kok agrees. “Students really appreciate time, when they are making a big change in their lives, to get to know each other and their surroundings before the pressures of school start,” she says. “We should have started this years ago.”

From August 17-20, international students met the faculty, interacted with other international students, and learned more about the culture in which they were going to be living and learning. The resident life staff and two upperclass international students helped make students feel at home. Faculty gave presentations on a wide variety of topics, ranging from the financial climate of the United States, to insurance awareness, to worship customs, to how the men and women relate in American culture—particularly in Dordt’s Christian atmosphere—compared with those in other cultures. Professors who are themselves representative of other countries and cultures also met with the students, recounting their own experiences and offering encouragement.

The orientation went extremely well, and Kok believes that the international students appreciated the opportunity to rest and accustom themselves to Dordt before everyone else arrived on campus and their studies began. Since this is the first year for the new orientation, all student feedback has been informal—but it has also all been positive.

“ISO gave the international students the opportunity to establish a sense of belonging and community before the rush of the semester,” Kok says with a smile. In the future, she and her colleagues hope to pursue a more structured form of evaluation to better assess the impact the event has on students. For now, the fact that this year’s students seemed so appreciative—and the fact that upperclass international students have wistfully wished they’d had something similar when they were freshmen—is a more than adequate reason to make ISO a permanent fixture at Dordt.