OPINION: Orientation planning needs to be adjusted for international students

A group of students are sitting and working together outside of the Hub at CMC..
For international students, first-year orientation is intensely overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be that way, writes Vivian Wang CM ‘26. (Jonathan Ke • The Student Life)

Everyone transitioning to college life knows that it can be a lot. For international students, it’s even more: a new country, language, culture … everything is different. The ideal new student orientation schedule would allow new international students, then, to ease into the transition and take it slow; however, the Claremont McKenna College orientation schedule this year did not do that.

This fall, as is tradition, CMC organized a wide range of orientational events to warmly receive its new first-year students to their homes for the next four. This year, the orientation schedule included information sessions, tips for building an inclusive community, a two-and-a-half day Welcome Orientation Adventure (WOA) and a variety of daily social events from Aug. 21 to 28. For international student arrivals, the programming started as early as Aug. 18.

A thorough introduction to the basics of college life is necessary for incoming students. Many orientation activities, such as information sessions about managing tech issues, academic course requirements and residential life, were effective as they helped acquaint first-year students with their new residential and academic community. Thanks to these sessions, I had a clearer sense of what I’d be dealing with in college. 

However, the routine nightly CMC-sponsored social events that preceded these sessions seemed to have the opposite effect. Having arrived in the United States just two days before first-year orientation kicked into full swing, I struggled to keep up with the pace of social events. Orientation wasn’t “welcoming” — it was alienating. People joyfully chatted about their hometowns and high school experiences that were very different from mine. 

Talking to fellow international students at CMC about their first-year orientation, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Many other students confided that they also felt disoriented and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of programming required of them. Some said they were  “behind” – treading water, attempting to stay afloat in a new country (and new time zone!) as American classmates perceivably fell right into stride.

“Everything was overwhelming from the weather to food to toilet hygiene, even the wide use of the iPhone,” Mehrin Khan CM ’26, a first-year from Bangladesh, said.

Orientation’s failure to make international students feel “welcome” is not for a lack of resources; Every new CMC student pays $500 for the orientation fee. What’s more, in 2021-2022, CMC’s endowment fund, the second-largest of the 5Cs, grew 42 percent from $855 million to $1.22 billion. Judging by the numbers, it’s clear that the resources exist to conduct a genuinely welcoming and inclusive orientation for all students — we just aren’t wielding them in the right ways.

In orientation planning, CMC needs to take into account the actual needs of international students. One way to do this would be through individual in-person checking-in. Given that international students are generally dealing with a massive physical and cultural transition, it would be comforting to be able to connect with other community members who relate to our discomfort. CMC can set up one-on-one meetings between every new international student and a CMC upperclassman with a similar background. These chats can be as short as fifteen minutes, happen as often as once or become a weekly occurrence depending on what the pair wants. Sometimes, all we need is to feel accepted, not as a whole international student community, but as individuals. 

Additionally, another sentiment that I heard others echo is that the school seemed to have neglected other crucial aspects of the international student experience during orientation. Talking to Tendai Nyamuronda CM ’26, a fellow international student, we agreed that the school should set aside a day or two where they help book appointments with a local bank so that all international students who want to open a bank account can all go at once. 

To amend this issue, CMC should connect with current international students to get a sense of what activities would be most useful. In their planning, the orientation committee should speak with current international students to get a sense of what problems they frequently encounter in their first few weeks.

Easing the intensity of orientation to accommodate international students is mutualistic: American new students will benefit from changes too. Social exhaustion is not a feeling unique to international students. A few of the other 5Cs have taken note of this general overwhelm and social exhaustion. 

For example, although Pomona’s 2022 orientation also lasted 10 days, Pomona students were able to take a day off throughout the course of the week. This time proves helpful for students in many ways – both symbolically, in terms of easing pressure to “constantly” socialize, and also by just allowing students (international or otherwise) to be alone and explore their new surroundings.  

To build a genuinely close-knit community that makes everyone feel cared for, people of all backgrounds need to be included in the planning. By consulting with current international students and designing an orientation schedule that takes the adjustment period into account, CMC can ensure that the international Stags and Athenas of the class of 2027 receive the most welcoming and comforting orientation yet.

Vivian Wang CM ‘26 is from Wuhan, China. She loves binge-watching stand-up comedy, trying new foods and is a big fan of FC Bayern Munich.

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