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Orientation For International Students Eases Scholars Into Life In The U.S.

August 12, 2003 — Elena Cheryauka vividly recalls the culture shock she experienced when she arrived in Salt Lake City from Siberia four years ago. She spoke only Russian and German. By joining the University International Center’s Cross-Culture Club she met other women in situations similar to her own. They socialized and, together, were able to overcome many of the same challenges.

Now, in her position as the student orientation coordinator for the U’s International Center, Cheryauka will, in turn, help foreign scholars learn about life at the U and in Utah at the international student orientation, to be held this Thursday and Friday, Aug. 14 and 15, from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., in the Union Building’s Saltair Room. There is no cost for these required sessions as it is already included in the international student fees.

All new foreign students are required to attend the two half-day orientation sessions, at which important topics are discussed: visa requirements, academic decisions, living arrangements, safety issues, student health insurance, immigration regulations and establishing bank accounts. (To ensure immigration compliance, all new international students must also check in at the International Center, located in room 411 of the Union Building, before beginning classes.) A tour of campus and downtown Salt Lake City is included. Last year about 240 students, from about 50 different countries, attended the information sessions. According to Bill Barnhart, U International Center director, about 2,000 F-1 visa holders-half undergraduate and half graduate students-attend the University. About 500 J-1 visa holders-visiting researchers and/or teachers-are on campus annually.

“Almost all of our international students feel lost when they get here and most experience culture shock,” reports Cheryauka. “We help students overcome this problem by giving them advice. But it’s not only about knowledge and access to campus resources. The main purpose of orientation for these international students is to create a sense of community, to build connections at the first of the year and to form relationships.”

While optional, international scholars are also encouraged to participate in the International Center’s “Out-and-About Utah,” two days of activities, scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 18 and 19. On Monday, from 12:30 a.m. until 8 p.m., the group will visit Snowbird, hike and then enjoy “an All-American Chinese buffet.” Tuesday’s events run from 10:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. and include a tour of Park City, riding the Alpine Slide, a picnic and cross-cultural games. Cost for the two days is $45, which includes meals and transportation. That evening, from 7:30 until 9:30 p.m., all international University students are invited to a free western line dancing party, to be held in the Union Ballroom.

The International Center is prepared to help incoming international students with new regulations imposed last February with the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), the electronic tracking system mandated by Congress for all international students and scholars. The center also provides monthly half-day orientation sessions for all J-1 visa holders and their families, which provide general information about adjusting to life in the United States. Orientation dates are Sept. 16, Oct. 8, Nov. 12 and Dec. 3. For more information on these sessions, call 801-581-8876.

“This fall semester marks a critical time for colleges and universities as we experience the full implementation of SEVIS. Coupled with the new, mandatory visa interviews abroad and the time-consuming visa approval process, there is reason for concern about the continuing number of international enrollments. Hopefully, most students and scholars will be able to make it into the country by the beginning of school,” notes Barnhart.

Cheryauka credits the Cross-Culture Club with helping her during her early months in Utah. “I enjoyed the club so much because the whole environment was so supportive. I met a lot of women from Korea and China who were trying to overcome some of the same problems and challenges, so we felt united. The activities that we had were great for socializing. There were women of many ages, but most were young,” notes Cheryauka, adding, “It’s all about spirit.” Last May she graduated from the University with an M.B.A.