Baylor student leaders help international students adjust to Waco life

Honduras sophomore Aviv Tome poses in front of fountain mall. Jason Pedreros | Multimedia journalist

By Elise Crosley | Reporter

When international students arrive in Waco to attend Baylor, many are faced with culture shock. Each culture lives daily life a little differently, making transitioning to a new one a long process, according to Nigeria junior and Center for Global Engagement Ambassador Ndidi Akahara.

Baylor’s CGE shoulders the responsibility of making these international students feel right at home when they move here. To make this process smoother, the CGE recently hired new student ambassadors.

These ambassadors have many responsibilities, but a main one is helping during Global Bears Week. Similar to Welcome Week, Global Bears Week is a time for international students to come together and make friends who are in similar situations. They also go on shopping trips and attend an immigration session. During the week, there is a big Green and Gold dinner, where the new students gather together with their ambassadors and share a meal. President Linda Livingstone attends the dinner as well and says a few words to the students.

“We’re assigned groups of international students. Throughout the year, we make sure to keep up with them, make sure they’re doing okay. If they have any questions, we’re definitely the people they come to ask,” Akahara said.

Another large part of being an ambassador is planning trips for the international students to attend. They’ll plan trips to Austin or Dallas to show the students a little bit of the United States outside of Waco. Ambassadors go on the trip to help with logistics and to grow in relationships with their students.

“We want to create a welcoming community at Baylor so they don’t feel like they’re thrown into a whole new way of life,” Akahara said.

A few weeks ago, the ambassadors and around 40 international students took a weekend trip to the Three Mountain Retreat in Clifton.

“We had activities, games and made s’mores. We bonded being in cabins with everyone. Some girls did their nails, kind of like a spa day. We also had some cultural shock presentations. We focus a lot on that area. It was a very wholesome experience,” Honduras sophomore Aviv Tome said.

The ambassador program used to only allow American students to be ambassadors, hoping their experience in the United States would allow them to make the transition smoother for international students. In the last year, they started allowing international students to be ambassadors.

“Before, the ambassadors were just American students,” Akahara said. “I kind of understand the reasoning behind it, I guess. American students understand college life, so they would be more help to international students who don’t know a lot about college life. However, they opened it up to international students, and it has been really helpful because international students are the best people to help navigate this sort of transition. We’re the best people to come to with questions.”

Some of the ambassadors have learned new lessons from the experience.

“Something that I think has been really valuable has been learning to keep an open mind and be culturally aware. I think being an ambassador has been amazing to see how our humanity is something that connects us as people. Being able to navigate cross cultural relationships better has been really cool,” Akahara said.

Without these ambassadors, there would be a loss of connection between students and student leaders in the Baylor community, Akahara added. Ambassadors are there for international students’ questions, needs and friendship.

“It’s not a responsibility, but a devotion to make them feel welcome,” Tome said. “That’s what we want to do. We want to give them a big hug and say, ‘Hey, I know you might be lost or may not understand the language very well or don’t understand the cultural differences, and that may be a little frightening. We’re here to give a helping hand.’”