It was a dreary afternoon in late August when my Connecticut Limo driver finally pulled up in front of Phelps Gate. An 18-hour delay on top of a 20-hour flight had not left my unshowered self feeling very upbeat. I suspect my enthusiasm still would have prevailed that day had it not been for the imposing castle-like structure of Phelps gate, made even scarier by the fact that, contrary to my expectations, there was no welcoming party holding giant placards with my name on them. Sudden pangs of homesickness coupled with sleep deprivation made me want to be back home in my bed. However, my panicked cries of “take me back to JFK” did not go over too well with the driver, and it was with restrained emotions that I was delivered onto the Phelps Gate sidewalk with all my thousand pounds of luggage piled up on my feet and not a clue about where to go.
But as I looked up to the sky, Jan appeared. Jan Szilagyi ’01 was one of my orientation counselors, and since I was not able to forward news of my delay, he had been waiting there the entire day in the hopes that I would show up. After I had finished hugging him and regained my manly composure of a few eternities ago, the best three days of my life kicked into action. From there we went to Lanman-Wright, where the entire Orientation for International Students group was hanging out, eating ice cream and relaxing. Soon after meeting all the friendly counselors and enthusiastic freshman and finding out that I was supposed to sleep in a quad full of girls, I was back in love with Yale.
Looking back at those days, I cannot help but be amazed at how far I have come in terms of being acclimated to this strange land. While some of you “internationals” might have had more of an exposure to the U.S. or at least to the educational system, most of you will be stepping into a completely different world come this fall. The fact that you get MTV and can recite “Beavis and Butthead” line for line does not count — trust me on this. Although the transition at times can be frustrating and time-consuming, not just for students but for anyone moving across cultural boundaries, I assure you that you could not have chosen a better place to make this transition.
Diversity is a key word at Yale. Not only restricted to the composition of the student body, it extends itself to the range of courses offered, the kinds of extracurriculars available, and the variety of people you will come across. The campus, with its downtown structure yet small-town feel, offers the best of both worlds, especially if you are as clueless as I was about American campuses. While some of the world’s best athletes, musicians, actors and artists will be matriculating with you this fall, Yale does not specialize in any one aspect. Varsity sports are a major part of college life and add immeasurably to the Yale experience, and knowing that the quarterback throwing the clutch touchdown pass has a near-perfect G.P.A. makes it an especially motivating experience. No matter how foreign your background or how varied your interests, you will always be able to find your kind of people, usually without having to look very far.
Various ethnic student organizations actively participate in campus debate, protecting the interests and promoting the culture of their minority communities. While the ethnic organizations are an excellent way to stay in touch with your roots, they consist primarily of Americans and it is easy for internationals to feel alienated. The International Students’ Organization (ISO), on the other hand, exists solely for the support of international students. We are a group of about 400 undergraduates linked together by little more than the foreignness of our social and cultural experiences. Although primarily a social organization known for its crazy parties, ISO has, in recent years, expanded itself to take on a more active role in representing the concerns of the international community. ISO also acts as an umbrella organization for various smaller international organizations like the Yale Undergraduate Friends of Turkey (YUFT) or the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), providing them with the necessary resources and a larger platform to voice their concerns. In addition, we hold blue book parties, ice cream socials, career nights, study breaks and many other events to introduce freshmen to the Yale international community. Not to worry though — we still know how to get down.
Orientation for International Students (OIS) is also an integral part of the Yale international experience. Like ISO, OIS has also come a long way in the past couple of years. Gone are the days when the perceived objective was to teach people how to operate laundry machines. OIS is the best place to meet the most interesting people and build a solid group of friends even before school starts. It is a priceless feeling when on the first day of “Camp Yale” you are already hanging out on Old Campus with your own group of friends, while everyone else is walking around feeling strange and lonely. Yale’s residential college system, as I am sure you know by now, is also very conducive to building close relationships, but the OIS programs helps you reach across to Yalies in all 12 colleges, and through your counselors you get to know a number of upperclassmen as well. Moreover, through the services of ISO you can keep in touch with them throughout your time at Yale.
In his speech at Yale’s Tercentennial celebration, President Richard Levin spoke about converting Yale into an international university. That speaks highly of the Yale administration’s commitment to its international students, and the recent implementation of a need-blind admissions policy is proof of this dedication. In the next four years, you will have a much greater choice in all respects; but no matter what you choose, Yale will always be there to support you.
Mansoor Razzaq is a senior in Morse College.