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May 2014

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Be one of them

Contributor: Tam Nguyen

I have been an international student for the past 3 years as a result of studying abroad in the US. Coming from a totally different culture, I faced several unexpected difficulties related to language differences, having to learn new learning methods, and especially making new friends. I found it challenging to look for a group of close friends that I can usually hang out with during my first year of studying abroad. I found it challenging to blend in and be a part of the bigger group, "be one of them". I found it challenging to openly share my home country culture as well as learning the others'. I found it challenging to be an international student.

As time passed, I overcame many fears and difficulties; I became more mature, or so I thought. After graduating from high school, knowing that I was going to James Madison University, the thought of me being experienced, trained, and used to studying in the US "accidentally" disappeared. Compared to my little cozy high school with no more than 500 students, a place like JMU filled with more than 20,000 students was just "a tiny bit" too overwhelming for me.

Along with being excited, I started to get nervous. I did not really know what to expect. I did not know what it would be like to study in college. I could not imagine how to behave, react and live among 19,000 or so American students. At one point, I was afraid of being unable to adapt to the new life.

I was fighting with my nerves as I was preparing myself for any possible upcoming challenges that I thought I would face in this new JMU environment, until I was introduced to a team of energetic and friendly people who called themselves “LINKers”. The LINK program, which consists of 10 students (called LINKers), is one of the special programs at James Madison University which was created to support globally-minded students with the hope of preparing them better for their new journey and bringing them closer together as a big family.

They literally solved for me all of the challenges and difficulties that an international student coming to JMU could possibly face. Starting from my arrival at Washington Dulles airport, the LINKers could not have created a better first impression. They gave me detailed instructions of how to get to the hotel nearby, and from there just hop on a bus and get to JMU safely.

Seeing a group of other international students along with two LINKers Rania and Yoo Jin was truly a pain/nervousness-relief; not only for me but more importantly for my parents. This was just the very first of a sequence of impressive things that this team of wonderful people prepared for the new incoming international students. 

LINker team

They gave us a friendly tour of the campus; they introduced us to many crazy and fun games and activities; they pumped our spirits when our emotions were a bit down; took us to the bank to open accounts; they taught us all of the JMU cheering songs; they went to dinner and football games with us; took us shopping... and the list could go on for 2 more paragraphs. Those things sound real simple, but the impact they created was undeniably significant.

When I told my parents almost everything I went through during my first week at JMU, they could not have been any happier. They were so glad that I was not left out and that I had met and made new friends. Transitions, the International student orientation program, prepared the students on one hand, but on the other hand it reassured their parents. That is just simply amazing.

Since I have been at JMU I have easily added two hundred more friends on Facebook. How awesome is that? Ok, all jokes apart, I did make a lot of friends, and more amazingly many of them have become some of my favorite people. I can now randomly walk on campus and be happily greeted by the so many people I met during the international student orientation. For me that is really priceless!