August 5, 2018

Student groups welcome newcomers at Sky Harbor Airport, help them get started at ASU

Venkata Akhil Madaraju knew them by their panicked faces.

Over the past week, Madaraju spent hours racing around Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, collecting international students who arrived to begin their studies at Arizona State University.

He doesn’t know the new students before they walk off the plane and into the terminal, but he can usually spot them — exhausted after traveling for nearly 30 hours and looking around for help.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“It’s overwhelming and you don’t know anything, and it’s a completely different experience,” said Madaraju, who is president of the Indian Students Association at ASU and arrived from India himself a year ago.

The Indian Students Association is part of the airport arrival program run by Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU. Different international student groups take turns staffing tables near the baggage claim area in terminals 3 and 4 during arrivals week. The greeters answer questions and help the newcomers through baggage claim and to the shuttle service, which is provided free by ASU, according to Earl Lee, coordinator of international student engagement for Educational Outreach and Student Services. The shuttle will take the students to any of the four ASU campuses or other housing in metro Phoenix.

Any international student can sign up for the welcome; hundreds of students registered to be met at the airport last week by a friendly Sun Devil face.

Madaraju, a graduate student studying computer science, said that the Indian Students Association greeted more than 200 students from India just on Friday and Saturday. When dust storms played havoc with flights early last week, he and other greeters stayed at the airport until 4 a.m.

Indian Students’ Association
Due to weather delays of many flights, members of the Indian Students Association greeted some new student arrivals in the wee hours of the morning at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport last week. Photo by Indian Students Association

Duan Wenxi traveled from Chengdu, China, to study communications at ASU, and he arrived late Friday afternoon, exhausted but excited. He was met by members of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association.

“I want to enhance my English-speaking skills, and I want to be a truly international student,” said the freshman as he carted several large suitcases to the shuttle.

The university hosts about 12,000 international students who travel thousands of miles to study at ASU, where it's both exciting and overwhelming dealing with a different language, a new academic system, making friends and the scorching heat.

international welcome
International relations sophomore Yuchen Zi (right) helps mechanical engineering doctoral student Dongting Li look up his SuperShuttle information at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Aug. 4. International student groups help newcomers navigate lost baggage, open accounts and buy SIM cards. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

In recent years, ASU has expanded its services for this group. Graduate students and undergraduates get a full week of orientation, starting Wednesday, learning about all the opportunities available to them — social clubs, conversation groups, tutoring, legal information, classroom expectations and tips on how to attend a football game. They attend workshops on academic integrity and participate in icebreakers to encourage them to bond with each other — a balm against the inevitable bouts of homesickness.

When the stress builds, all students can take advantage of the counseling services at ASU, which are designed with cultural needs in mind.

But in the first few hours after landing at Sky Harbor last week, most international students are worried about things like how to set up a bank account and where to charge their phones.

“They feel really happy to see someone helping them,” Madaraju said. “A lot of them need to use my mobile to call their parents and tell them they’re safe.”

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now

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