How AU became a ‘second home’ for some international students

American University houses just under 2,000 international students from more than 100 different countries. With diverse backgrounds, there is no typical experience for international students. The Eagle spoke with a handful of students to learn more about their experiences finding community on campus.

These international students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, shared their love for AU and provided tips on how to find support on campus.

Chaitanya Venkateswaran, a senior in the School of International Service and College of Arts and Sciences, is an international student from New Delhi, India. She came to AU on a full scholarship called the Emerging Global Leader Scholarship.

Venkateswaran started at AU during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and spent part of her freshman year at home. Despite this unique access to college, Venkateswaran said she felt like her transition was smooth.

“I’ve never had an issue where I contacted an office and didn’t get a response within a few days on how to proceed,” Venkateswaran said. “I have found mentors at different schools, both in my major and for some of the other things I do here. I think the faculty here at AU in particular are incredibly open to it… When you reach out, they often respond incredibly well.”

Finding support through faculty members brings comfort and stability to many international students at AU. Aaj Adhikari, a SIS freshman from Kathmandu, Nepal, said her teachers are a big part of her college experience.

“Most of my professors from the first semester were immigrants themselves or very helpful and very understanding,” Adhikari said. “(One of my professors) would often check on me and ask where I was going on vacation or if I was communicating with my family back home.”

Tongge “Susan” Sun, a School of Public Affairs senior from Shenyang, China, found the students and faculty at AU more welcoming than where she went to high school in San Antonio, Texas.

“I feel more comfortable telling people I’m not from the United States; I am from China,” she said.

“I’m more used to people who adhere to the same values ​​or a similar culture, so AU is definitely an eye-opening experience for me,” Sun added. “(At AU) you don’t have to be like everyone else, because there are always other people who accept you for who you are.”

Adriana Rivera, a senior at the Kogod School of Business from San José, Costa Rica, shared similar experiences. Compared to her previous teaching experiences, Rivera said she especially appreciated the diversity of the student body and faculty because it allowed for more well-rounded conversations.

Before coming to AU, Rivera didn’t know much about the school, but she said she knew she would like it. Yet she never expected AU to exceed her expectations, “not only in terms of academic goals, but also (in terms of) the community.”

One of the most important support systems for Rivera is AU diplomats, an AU-led organization that brings together international students and American Global Nomads – United States citizens who attend schools outside the country – to form a community through various events and mentorship programs. The program also highlights the experiences of current students for future AU students. Rivera said these types of support systems make AU special and welcoming to international students.

“AU has a strong support system to support international students to create a community, make you feel at home and find people who can ultimately help you in the four years when you don’t have family around,” says Rivera . “I feel safe here; it is now my second home.”

The International services for students and scientists office provides international students with support systems to help them succeed during their time at AU. The office has advisors specifically designed to help international students with their experience and they host events throughout the year to facilitate the community.

One event though Global Caféwhere students get a study break to enjoy snacks and drinks.

Rivera advises international students not to be afraid to seek help. Even though it’s scary not having someone here, “there are a lot of people going through the same thing.”

Still, Rivera and Venkateswaran believe AU could provide more practical support during transition periods, whether transitioning to college or post-graduation.

“The transition would benefit from opportunities for more practical support,” Venkateswaran said. “For example, I had to find out for myself which banks I can open an account at here without a citizen service number.”

International students come from different backgrounds, which some students say makes it difficult to bring this population together and expect them to always find common ground

Venkateswaran believes that if the university could “better understand what this more fragmented group of students looks like… and what kind of support they need,” the international student experience would vastly improve.

Sun echoed this sentiment and shared her experiences struggling with the stereotypes of being an international student.

“When (people) see you as a foreigner, especially Asian and Chinese, they tend to associate you with stereotypes,” Sun said. “I felt like I was being labeled in such a way that I had to do the opposite so that people could actually accept me as one of them. For example, if (people) think Asians are really good at math, I feel like I have to purposefully fail all my math tests so that I can share something in common with them.”

Additionally, Venkateswaran and Adhikari said more funding and scholarships for international students are needed.

“I think the hardest part for me was the financial aid part because there isn’t a big focus for international students,” Adhikari said.

Venkateswaran said the international admissions team has been vying for an additional full scholarship for international students but is still not successful.

“The scholarship I am getting is for one student every year… That is the only option where international students can apply,” Venkateswaran said.

However, students said the university has made improvements to better support international students during this transition period.

“They started offering us as international students support in filing taxes because… it’s extremely challenging to navigate the process on your own because it’s a new system for you,” Venkateswaran said.

Besides the logistics of moving to a school in the US, Sun and Venkateswaran both say they enjoyed their time at AU.

“When I came to DC, I started to realize that there are people who appreciate and celebrate the diversity of people in general, and that I shouldn’t have to change myself just because I felt like I had to be part of a bigger community to be accepted. ,” said Zon. “My AU experience as an international student was quite positive, not perfect, but positive compared to where I was before.”

Venkateswaran said she appreciates D.C.’s connection to the rest of the world and encourages students to take advantage of it.

“AU is the perfect place to start that journey just because it is so inherently global, not only in terms of the diversity of its student population, but also because… DC is a global city,” Venkateswaran said. “Take advantage of everything you have at your fingertips because it is such a significant investment to choose to step away from all your support systems and come to a new place. And while you’re here, you might as well take advantage of everything you have to offer. you have available.”

As Venkateswaran’s time at AU comes to an end, she offers one piece of advice to international students: “Do the internships, do the work, go to the festivals, go out. Try what you can, experience what you can, because you won’t regret it.”

This article was edited by Kathryn Squyres, Zoe Bell, Tyler Davis and Abigail Turner. Copy editing provided by Luna Jinks and Isabelle Kravis.

[email protected]