International Students Get a World-Class Welcome

Every year Syracuse welcomes hundreds of international students from all over the globe as they embark on a new academic journey. With the help of student ambassadors and multiple on-campus organizations and programs, the University hopes to create an exciting and welcoming atmosphere. 

International students sitting on stairs with Hall of Languages in the background.
The 2019-20 Welcome International Team is made up of student ambassadors who support international students in their transition to life in the U.S. and at Syracuse University.

International students who come to U.S. universities can find themselves in an unfamiliar environment, thousands of miles from home and family. They’re immersed in a new culture and language, and everything from food to academic expectations is different.

That’s why the first impression counts, and Syracuse University makes a powerful one. As international students deplane at New York’s JFK airport, a contingent of smiling Syracuse faces is there to welcome them and deliver them safely to campus. “This year, nine coach buses will transport a total of 379 passengers from JFK to Syracuse University,” says Wei Gao, assistant director in the Office of First-Year and Transfer Programs. “Many international airlines don’t offer connecting flights to Syracuse, so this eliminates the need to tow luggage to the bus station in New York City.” An additional 874 students will be picked up and transported to campus from Hancock airport in Syracuse.

A Big Syracuse Welcome

Once they arrive on campus, the Welcome Ambassador Internationals (WAIs) take over. These Syracuse University students are specially recruited and trained to help new international students acclimate to campus. Many of them are international students themselves, so they have a firsthand perspective on what incoming students need and how to assist them. The WAIs help their assigned students with things like check-in and locating services on campus, and accompany them to Syracuse Welcome events.

“I became a WAI volunteer because the skills we learn inside the classrooms at Syracuse can be given back to the community of students around us,” says Eduardo Ody Nedel ’21, a native of Brazil who is studying economics and mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences. “Improving my breadth of knowledge about cultures around the world is pivotal in achieving a world-class education.”

WAIs also conduct small group sessions and are a valuable resource for international students who have questions about policies, procedures, campus life and academics at Syracuse University.

International students—who represent nearly 20 percent of the University’s student population—arrive on campus a few days earlier than the rest of the students so they can participate in a mandatory international student orientation as well as Syracuse Welcome.

“Undergraduate international student orientation is designed to aid in the specific transitional needs of this important student population,” says Carrie Abbott, director of First-Year and Transfer Programs. “We offer events and programs designed to help international students transition to campus, learn more about available resources, and connect with each other and peer mentors. The program includes informational sessions as well as a trip to Green Lakes. Our goal is to help students feel welcome, acclimated and embraced as new members of the Orange family.”

The Syracuse Welcome new student orientation for incoming U.S. undergraduate students begins with new student move-in Tuesday, August 20 and continues through Sunday, August 25.

Finding Support in a New Environment

When classes get underway, international students have additional lifelines to services they may need. “Adaptation to the American education system—especially the expectation of public presentations and class participation—can make it difficult to be academically successful,” says Juan Tavares, director of the Slutzker Center for International Services. The center has a mentoring program called Connections, which pairs experienced students with new international students. They offer advice on academic issues like connecting with professors and balancing coursework, and life skills like opening a bank account and living with a roommate.

The Slutzker Center also provides support on immigration issues, employment and cross-cultural socializing. Friday evenings the center sponsors Mix-It-Up, dialogue sessions where students share a meal and explore issues like identity and intercultural communication. English conversation groups are informal one-hour chat sessions during center office hours that promote understanding between English-speaking group leaders and international students, scholars and spouses.

Bassam Albassam ’20 came to Syracuse University from Kuwait to study psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I was lucky to have an incredibly supportive roommate who is my closest friend to this day,” he says. “The Slutzker Center was an invaluable resource in helping me figure out official paperwork relating to my visa.” But his greatest difficulty came from looking different from his peers. “I was fortunate to find the Zen Center of Syracuse, along with Buddhist chaplains. Finding a spiritual process and secularizing it for myself helped me face all my issues. I’m healthier and more grateful than I’ve ever been.”

Intensive Language Instruction

Portrait of Fatima Rodriguez Pacas and Kanwal Kataria.
ELI students Fatima Rodriquez Pacas, (left) from El Salvador, and Kanwal Kataria, from Pakistan, visited Skaneateles Lake while studying in the Fulbright Summer 2019 program.

Many international students come to Syracuse University to bolster their academic English skills and prepare them for success in undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Established at Syracuse University in 1979 to provide high quality, intensive English language instruction, the English Language Institute (ELI) serves students who have been conditionally admitted to Syracuse University, students who hope to study at another U.S. university, and professionals who want to improve their English language skills. The ELI also has specialized pre-degree English programs available for law and architecture students.

“If I could summarize my student phase at Syracuse University, it would be three words: light, liberty and learning,” says Kanwal Kataria, a Fulbright-sponsored student from Pakistan who studied English at the ELI to prepare for graduate school. “Light, because it enabled me to see the world differently. Liberty, because it not only exposed me to academic knowledge, but also taught me invaluable skills and life lessons.”

Coming Attractions

Syracuse University continuously seeks new ways to enhance the international student experience. Plans are underway for an international festival that will be open to the general public, where students will highlight their culture through a presentation of foods, fashion and artistic displays. “Syracuse University has made a tremendous effort to accommodate and welcome international students and parents,” Tavares points out. “This includes the participation of our Chancellor and other administration officials in many Syracuse Welcome activities, and the support shown by the University community to create a warm and welcoming environment.”

Mary Beth Horsington

This story was first published on August 21, 2019 and last updated on .


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