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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

ISSS International Pre-Orientation Celebrates 20 Years

International Student & Scholar Services’ (ISSS) International Pre-Orientation, formerly known as International Early Arrival, celebrated its 20th year of programming this summer with the arrival of the biggest international class Middlebury has seen to date. For many international students traveling to Middlebury, the time is not only a transition into a new school, but also a new country, schooling system and culture.

This fall, the college enrolled around 330 international students — around 50–60 more than usual — representing over 70 countries. The group of international students included members of the class of 2025, members of the class of 2024 who studied remotely in their first year, exchange students, U.S. citizens living abroad and international transfer students. The program ran from Sept. 2 to Sept. 6, after which international students joined the rest of the first-year class for the start of MiddView Orientation. 

Before the first international student orientation was held in 2001, international students arrived at the same time as U.S. students and had to juggle their regular orientation schedule with extra required sessions for students with a visa status.

The start of International Pre-Orientation, with the help of Director of ISSS Kathy Foley, gave new students the opportunity to meet other international students while becoming familiar with campus resources. Pre-Orientation sessions also covered specific topics that affect international students, such as U.S. visa status, student employment, cultural adjustment and U.S. taxes.

Arthur Martins ’22.5, early arrival student coordinator, said he thinks Pre-Orientation is important for creating a sense of community.

“It’s very hard and jarring to travel and to arrive at a different culture alone in the middle of Vermont which is so isolated and foreign to a lot of people,” said Martins. “It’s important to have a space where you can acclimatize and foster a sense of community with people with similar backgrounds. There’s a sense of solidarity.”

Program Arrival Leaders (PALs) helped run the pre-orientation program, leading their own smaller groups to facilitate different icebreakers, conversations and activities.

“If I came here and was dropped into U.S. culture without this week, I think I would have had a lot of problems just immersing myself in friendships and getting social cues,” PAL Abed Abbas ’24 said. “Orientation prepares you just for that cultural shock.”

Sessions regarding visa status and employment opportunities were held throughout the week, informing students about documentation and maintaining their status in the U.S., as well as talks on academics and U.S. culture. Along with the more informative programming, there were also activities designed to build community, including a trivia night, bonfire and dance party at the Kirk Alumni Center. 

“When they have identities beyond U.S. borders and U.S. culture… there's just so many different complexities to that, and [Pre-Orientation is] just simply space to sit in that, arrive, and start to explore, and then also help students get their bearings on resources and just what it's like to be in Vermont,” Assistant Director of ISSS Christy Fry said. 

Pre-Orientation continues to be a space for students from all over the world to begin grounding themselves in the Middlebury community. 

“It helps people get their mind, body and spirit in the right place and time zone,” Foley said. “And then they can be ready to go with everything else that's to come.”

Roya Touran

 Roya Touran '23.5 is a news editor.