By Erica Quinones
Before Washington College was animated by the presence of freshmen, international students took residence in their new homes on Aug. 18, some arriving in the United States for the first time from countries such as Russia, India, and Uzbekistan.
Around 20 international students arrived on campus two weeks before classes began in order to transition to both college and life in the United States, according to International Student Guide and junior Isabella Smith.
International Student Guides led international students through games, workshops, and tours to help them acclimate to life on campus, be it through practical means such as creating a bank account or cultural means such as workshops on culture and academics.
WC’s international students have diverse backgrounds and future plans, some arriving for a semester of exploration and others planning for a full four years of community.
Senior Dasha Baranovskaia is an international student who will only attend WC for the fall semester. Baranovskaia is originally from Russia but attends Leiden University in The Hague, Netherlands, and resides in France.
Baranovskaia said that her choice to attend WC “was a matter of broadening my academic horizons and experiencing new culture and country.”
Regarding her academic horizons, Baranovskaia said she is excited to pursue sociology courses because her home university does not have a sociology major.
Additionally, Baranovskaia said that being hosted in the United States means she can visit cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., “seeing the U.S. and the American people for myself, instead of just blindly accumulating stereotypes and assumptions about the country and its citizens from the news, media, et cetera.”
Freshman Alex Ruf is also an international student, but has a different prospective path at WC.
Ruf moved from Ecuador to the United States in 2019. After graduating from high school in the United States, she was introduced to WC by her advisor and discovered a feeling of belonging on campus.
“At the beginning, I was not sure about it [the College]. I didn’t think I would end up there,” Ruf said. “It was between these two colleges, and I came to visit the College [WC] again to see what it was like, and as I was going in, I just got this huge smile on my face…I just felt it. I just knew this is where I was supposed to be.”
So, Ruf made WC her four-year institution, hoping to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in 2025.
While Ruf said she has a different experience from some other international students — because she has lived in the United States for two years, and she has experience in navigating linguistic and cultural differences — she still faces the challenges of adjusting to college life and independence.
Other students often face challenging cultural and physical transitions, such as adjusting to a new time zone, receiving a new phone number, or exploring new store chains.
Time zone adjustments were especially difficult due to the rigorous orientation schedule, according to Smith. Their schedule could run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., which created a difficult shift for international students from countries like Korea, which is 13 hours ahead of Chestertown.
Baranovskaia said that while she also struggled to adjust to the time zone, her remaining transition to life at WC has been smooth thanks to the International Student Guides who answered students’ questions and helped address any “minor culture shocks.”
Her greatest remaining uncertainties pertain to future studies and last-minute course changes — issues with which their Guides continue assisting.
“Talking these things out with the [International Student Guides] helps since they have a lot of experience with these matters themselves and can give advice that works and not just follow the ‘guidelines’ or the ‘protocol’ that some other, higher-up staff usually gives,” Baranovskaia said.
While the International Student Guides are resources for students, international students also found solace in each other and their shared experiences.
Ruf said that community-building aspects of orientation were helpful because they offer opportunities to create support systems with students in similar situations, and to distract oneself from the emotional stress of collegiate transition.
“It’s an amazing community, everyone is so inclusive and warm and welcoming,” Ruf said. “It’s been a really good week. It’s been a really good place. I was actually scared at the beginning that I would have problems, like missing my house, my home, and my parents, and my aunt and uncle, and that I would not be able to go out or do anything. I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it hasn’t, and I think it’s because of how amazing this community is and how I feel like I’m home here.”
This theme of community was also important for Baranovskaia as she looked towards the future.
“This is my first time being on a university campus in the last one-and-a-half years; so, all I can say is that I’m very excited about finally being somewhere with people and physical interactions happening,” Baranovskaia said. “I am so far very happy with the fact that I got this opportunity to come here and study, despite all the mess and chaos happening in the world right now.”
Photo courtesy of Evan McCarthy