During the last week of winter break, while most students were consuming as much sleep as possible before returning to class, I was lugging all of my belongings back up to my dorm room, conveniently located on the 9th floor. As a NISO peer mentor, I had to attend the mandatory two-day training session before participating in the Crimson Connection orientation. The New International Student Orientation (NISO, for short) is a program all incoming international students go through prior to beginning classes at the University of Oklahoma. Crimson Connection, the final step at arrival, runs through several presentations regarding rules, social norms, and advice on coping with culture shock. As a mentor, I was assigned to a group of 10 students to ensure a warm welcome to our campus and serve as a helpful resource for these students as they settle into life in America.
Over 100 students from around the globe arrived in our student union on what was likely the coldest day of winter so far. My heart went out to the incoming groups from places like African and South American countries who left behind their warm climates for our wind and ice that day. Thankfully, no one seemed to let the weather bring them down. Going into this program, my intentions were to make sure these students felt comfortable and have a positive impact on their time here.
In retrospect, I realize I initially felt more like an advisor to these students instead of a friend. In a way, I guess that is what we were supposed to be. However, I’m thankful I let go of my ego and genuinely bonded with several students. When orientation came to an end, I offered rides to their apartments. Sarah, a girl in my group, brought along 2 of her girlfriends. Hearing these new friends of mine thank me for being so welcoming gave me such a warm feeling.
It didn’t stop there, however. The very next day Sarah invited me over for dinner with the girls, a gathering that has become a weekly tradition. Sarah, Clara, and Maureen are far more than just ‘my students’ now, a notion I regret ever buying into. They are some of my closest friends. Now, halfway through their semester here at OU, they are the ones who have made a priceless impact on my life. If you ever notice me taking my shoes off immediately upon walking into a home, thank the girls. (Leaving your shoes on in a home is a sign of disrespect in French culture, which I think is awesome.)
If you’re a student at OU reading this, I cannot place enough emphasis on this program. Not only is it fulfilling, it can be a life changing experience. Please consider applying to be a NISO peer mentor or joining any similar program you can!