November 13, 2018

Undergraduate International Students Find Community in Differences, Shared Values

Georgetown is home to students from more than 130 countries. Undergraduate international students encounter Georgetown with unique perspectives about living on campus in Washington, D.C., and face unique circumstances as they transition to collegiate life.

Students walk in Red Square as classes change
Students walk in Red Square as classes change

André Amaral (SFS’21) did not know much about Georgetown when he began his college search. Connecting with an alumnus, who emphasized the university’s commitment to service, convinced him to apply. Although Amaral sometimes finds it difficult to live far from his family, he feels at home at Georgetown thanks to the care his peers show for the world around them.

“Something I’ve experienced at Georgetown that I really appreciate is…while we all are studying the big and important problems of the world and what we can do about them, people have the same care and dedication towards the issues of our immediate community, and care for each other,” said Amaral.

Arriving at Georgetown

Amaral was born in São Paulo, Brazil, but spent several years living in both Rio de Janeiro and Brisbane, Australia, where he became fluent in English. He was considering universities in the United Kingdom and Brazil, but decided on Georgetown because of its flexibility for academic exploration and diverse student body.

“I had always hoped that in college I would meet people with whom I shared important values and aspirations, but who were also different to me in many other ways,” said Amaral. “I think this is definitely the case at Georgetown, given the people I’ve met so far.”

Like Amaral, Ilari Papa (SFS’20) was motivated to apply to Georgetown in large part by her family. After relocating from her home country of Albania to attend an international high school in the Netherlands, Papa decided on Georgetown for university. Her grandfather, Larry Post, a former U.S. Office of Strategic Services officer, inspired her to study politics in the United States.

“My passion for politics and international relations triggered my curiosity to learn more about the SFS, its alumni, and rich history,” said Papa. “Growing up in a family that emphasizes education…my parents encouraged me to work hard in order to make my dream come true.”

International in D.C.

Ali Shahbaz (SFS‘20), whose first year at Georgetown coincided with the 2016 election, was originally concerned about the state of political diversity in the United States during the Trump presidency. However, he has since become more optimistic about the opportunity for political engagement.

“I used to talk at lengths about the ways in which the current presidency makes things, let’s just say, not the easiest for internationals–especially when you are so close to the heart of U.S. politics in D.C.,” said Shahbaz. “But now, I have started looking at the silver linings: this is a time of superb political awakening.”

Sarah Bunker, an advisor in the Office of Global Services (OGS), helps students navigate not only federal and university-level regulations, but also personal hurdles that arise as a result of being international.

“These students should be very proud of themselves as they not only succeed through the normal college anxiety of living in a new city without their family, but also navigating complex government regulations and processes,” said Bunker.

Washington, D.C., is a global city where international students at Georgetown are joined by faculty, staff, and other students from all corners of the world.

A Home on the Hilltop

Bunker is one of eight advisors for international students with F-1 or J-1 immigration status. International Student and Scholar Services in OGS provides guidance on immigration, runs orientations for graduate and undergraduate international students, and offers resources for living in D.C. and getting involved on campus.

The International Student Association (ISA) is a student-run organization that provides support and plans events for the international student population to foster a sense of community. ISA President William Min (B’19) has found that extracurricular leadership has made his time at Georgetown especially fulfilling.

“I realized that by having taken a big responsibility role, I felt a lot more meaning in being in Georgetown,” said Min. “Thinking about it now, this is perhaps my advice to any freshman.”

“If anything, it’s the people that make Georgetown home,” added Shahbaz. “The friends that I have made, the group trips to Safeway, the all-nighters at Lau, the ice-skating at the Waterfront, and the collective mourning of econ curve makes Georgetown a permanent imprint on the memory–a happy one.”

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