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Left to right: Seisuke Moriyama, Maren Gerst, Laura Gebelhoff, and Ben Zhou trying fried oreos in Atlantic City.
A week before the annual mass of new students descend on Arcadia, another group— about 70 international students representing 15 countries— arrive with the same mix of anxiety and excitement.
For many of those international students, it is their first time at an American university (or even in the United States). They arrive full of questions, have to study in a language that is not their first language, and must learn how to navigate major cultural differences. Arcadia has a program set up to help incoming international students with these issues: I-PALs.
I-PALs (or International Peer Associate League members) are the first faces these students see at the airport. We also hang out with them during orientation and plan cultural events throughout the semester. Pre-orientation is probably the best part of being an I-PAL— it is a week full of nonstop bonding activities, such as scavenger hunts in Glenside and day trips to Philadelphia. My favorite parts of orientation were learning Chinese words, taking the students to their first American movie theatre, and helping them pick out dorm supplies at Target. During orientation week alone, we probably went to Target more than five times.
So what is it like to be an international student during orientation? Here are a few observations from three new students: Seisuke, an Education and Urban Architecture major from Japan; Maren, a Business Administration major from Germany; and Laura, an International Business major from Germany. We sat down to talk outside Easton Cafe, one of our favorite places to meet up between classes and grab a coffee.
Maren (left) and Laura at Collegefest in Philadelphia.
Seisuke: Everyone is so friendly. I can talk with all people, and they are willing to help and so cheerful.
Maren: When I came here, I saw so many different kinds of people. It’s so diverse— in Germany, everyone looks alike or at least is similar. Here, there are Latinos, African-Americans, etc.
Laura: Yes, I hear so much Spanish here! Also, everything is bigger here. My first time at Walmart was really overwhelming.
Seisuke: Everyone was helpful to me. We students are all so close to each other here at Arcadia. I was impressed by the orientation, because I could make many friends and get to know Philadelphia and Arcadia. It helped me not to be alone.
Maren: I was a bit worried at first, before coming to Arcadia, because of how small it is. But I really like it, especially because you always see someone you know. Even when you are going to class, you bump into the same people. It’s really nice.
Laura: When I first arrived, I really liked the campus— it’s so green, and it’s not as big as other American campuses.
Seisuke: My favorite part of Arcadia are the IPALs and the events. Movie night, bingo, games, and so on— they’re so enjoyable and exciting. I always think, “What is the next event?”
Maren: Arcadia also offers a lot of programs for students, like the trip to Atlantic City, the Philly trip at orientation, and free tickets to CollegeFest.
Seisuke at the Atlantic City beach trip.
Laura: The Atlantic City trip was amazing! I also really like that we have the I-PALs, because we are not just with other international students all of the time. At other universities, the international students stick together; here, I-PALs helps us mix with the American students.
Maren: I also like how international Arcadia is. Even the American students have some kind of international view or background. People come from all over, or they’ve grown up somewhere else, or they’ve been to other countries for a study abroad semester. I really love that.
Laura: And everyone speaks different languages. I thought everyone just spoke English in the U.S., and that they didn’t care about other cultures because they are very proud of their own. At Arcadia, it’s different. People always want to learn new languages.
Maren: Oh, and I love the location of Arcadia. It's not just close to Philly, but also to New York. We are able to do all these trips for really cheap.
Seisuke: The biggest difference has been the easiness in communicating with people. Here, we don’t have to be too careful about what we say. In Japan, people always care about how they will be thought of. The enthusiasm to study is also very different. People in Japan tend to play, even though we have a lot of homework (laughs.)
Laura: The size of the university and the classes. I was a bit scared at first, but I really like it. The classes are small, but the professors know who we are. I am more involved here, and the professors are always asking me my German perspective.
Maren: Yeah, in Germany our professors wouldn’t even know our names.
Seisuke: Keeping my body healthy is the most difficult thing for me, because all the foods are high-calorie.
Maren: For me, it’s been studying in a different language. I have to read the material in English, translate it to German in my head, try to think of an answer, and translate it back to English. It’s very difficult.
Laura: I agree with Seisuke. In the Chat, there are so many burger options, and always with fries!