It's students that create divisions, not orientations

By Stephen Snider

Is International Orientation necessary? I have heard this question a lot lately and it often is in response to the divide that many people draw between domestic students and international students. Some students go so far as to say that it is because of International Student Orientation (ISO) there is a divide and that the remedy is to do away with ISO completely. From personal experience, I don’t think this is the case. Without ISO, Macalester would not have the strong international program on which we pride ourselves.A year ago, I arrived at Macalester bright-eyed and about to experience some serious culture shock. It was the first time for me to be living outside my home country. I had to adjust to a new education system and to a new form of life. I couldn’t call home whenever I wanted nor did I know how things were done in this country. Honestly, I was very overwhelmed.

But that’s where my mentors and the ISO program came in. My three mentors, who were in charge of 25 international students, became a support system that I could rely on. They assisted us with things such as trips to Target so that we could purchase necessities like sheets, towels, and toothpaste. They helped us find warm clothes for the harsh winter ahead. They showed us how to fill out our immigration and employment forms. We discussed the new education system and academic integrity. In fact, ISO helped me out so much that I became a mentor this year and have worked very closely with the International Center. I know now better then ever that without ISO most international students would be easily lost among the student body.

In terms of practicality, it’s important that International students have the option of arriving early at Macalester. It would be way too stressful and time consuming if during regular orientation international students had to fill out tax and immigration forms, in addition to attending the regular orientation activities. Imagine seventy-five jet-lagged students from as far away as Mongolia and Zimbabwe arriving at an airport they have never been to, in a country they have never set foot in, and at a school they have only seen in pictures, and then be expected to adjust and fall into line with the other students. I want to convey that Domestic Orientation is very important in its own right because it helps all students adjust to living in this community we call Mac, but it is the ISO that provides for these very important cultural and social adjustments.

My second point is that ISO does not cause this so-called division at Mac. This division is natural. It’s part of our human nature to attach ourselves to persons who are like us. Many internationals form strong friendships because they share the common experience of coming to the United States to study, and if you look deeper into this division, you will see “divisions” among the different groups. For example, those from Switzerland, India, or the Caribbean share a special bond with their country-mates because of a shared culture. Similarly, there are these same “cliques” within domestic students: baseball and football players, mock trials, drama teams; the only difference here is that it is harder to see them. Whe-n the situation is reversed and domestic students from Mac study abroad, they often develop special bonds with other Americans or English speakers there. We all build these bonds for security.

So, is the ISO necessary? For me, the answer is yes. ISO is a valuable and vital part of Macalester’s international program, without which international students would be at a serious disadvantage. The fact of the matter is that divisions are always going to be around us. But maybe, if you want to eradicate them you should question the necessity of sports teams coming early for pre-season, or the Lives of Commitment retreat, or the MacWard Bound activity. Or better yet, maybe every Mac student should come out of his social bubble and take it upon himself to reach out and meet new people. Maybe, domestics and internationals need to stop complaining about a division that they are creating themselves.