For most students at Lehigh, going to college is a big step in their lives since this is the first time many leave home for a prolonged period. It is a time of self discovery, to harness one’s skills and learn more about themselves and their aspirations. For a portion of Lehigh’s community, the college experience also signifies a large step in their global experience, as international students not only leave their homes, but also their home countries.
International students make up 16 percent of Lehigh’s student body and come from 83 countries, according to the Office of International Students and Scholars’ (OISS) website. Because college also means adjusting to a new culture for most international students at Lehigh, the OISS provides an orientation that usually runs before students go through general orientation programming.
“When I talk to, say, student panels, the one thing that international students really highlight is international orientation as one of their favorite experiences,” said Caroline Neal, the intercultural programs coordinator for the OISS.
Neal stepped into her position during the summer of 2019 and has been planning the international orientation program and prepping international orientation leaders (IOL) since then.
Sakshi Archarya, ’21, who was an international orientation leader in the fall of 2019, said the international orientation program was one of the highlights of her Lehigh experience.
“Personally, when you come here as an international student, you’re coming into this new environment with a lot of unknowns—a lot of uncertainties,” Archarya said. “International orientation was one of the best Lehigh experiences I had in terms of connecting with people, making friends and even connecting with my IOL.”
The international orientation program aims to connect international students prior to their involvement with the greater Lehigh campus and teach them more about American culture and the schooling system, among other topics.
After their first year, students are able to sign up to become international orientation leaders to help share their knowledge and make connections with the next class of international students at Lehigh.
For international orientation leaders, their reasons for joining varied. However, not all of the reasons are positive.
“My international orientation leader wasn’t that great, and I felt that I wanted other people coming in to have a better experience than I did,” said Anmol Shrestha ’21, an international orientation leader in fall 2018 and 2019.
Despite this, Shrestha said he made lasting connections during his time in the program.
With the pandemic in mind, the fall’s iteration of the international orientation programming took a different approach than a typical year. Based online with both live and pre-recorded sessions, the orientation suited the needs of students in attendance as most new international students did not move to campus in the fall.
As plans to return to campus in the fall of 2021 are developed, the OISS hopes to provide some in-person programming for the next class of international students.
“We’re hoping, going forward, for this fall, the plan is to have it in person,” Neal said. “Of course we have to follow Lehigh guidance and Pennsylvania guidance, but we’re hopeful that we can do the majority of it in person.”