A group of smiling faces clusters around the freshly painted Beta Bridge. The bridge is painted in blue and green to say “Welcome Global Hoos!” This message is part of a series of events organized by the University of Virginia’s Global Greeters for the incoming international students.
“Each year, with the help of a staff advisor, our Global Greeters plan and implement a variety of programs to welcome international students to UVA,” International Studies Office staff advisor Grace Medrano explains. In addition, an executive team of four students help keep things organized. This year, during orientation week, Greeters partnered with Student Council to meet the incoming international students at Dulles airport and ride back with them to UVA. They also hosted picnics on the lawn and “insider tours” of Grounds to share the UVA spirit with the new students.
Peer mentoring for new international students has been in existence at UVA for a couple of decades which led to the start of the Global Greeters program a few years ago.
“The Global Greeters program provides peer support to incoming international students. As UVA students themselves, they have an insider’s perspective,” ISO staff advisor Tanya Reeves adds. “They enjoy being a resource to new international students because they remember what it was like to be new themselves not too long ago – the kinds of things they were concerned about before arriving and what helped them to settle in and thrive at UVA.”
This year had the largest cohort of Greeters since the program’s inception. “Our four executives and the ISO coordinator tried hard to get the word out among all departments and related groups,” said Greeter executive Kehui (Ellie) Chen, adding that the in-person instruction might have motivated students to join. “We’ve discovered that many students are more interested in the in-person events committee than the other committees.”
Chen is from Shanghai, China and said her decision to become a Global Greeter was based on her first-year experience. “In my first year, I went to many events and had a lot of fun. GG's events created a feeling of belonging for first year international students in the UVA community.” She wanted to give back to the UVA community and create a happy experience for new Hoos as well.
Other Global Greeters are involved with language and area studies programs on Grounds and have a variety of international experiences. Some Greeters mention a desire to get to know new people and cultures to join the program.
The Greeters have wonderful stories about their experiences. Medrano describes her most heart-warming experience as the buses from the airport rolled into Grounds, “A group of volunteers gathered to cheer, shout, and clap as the buses rolled in and it was so much fun! We were also able to pass out care packages of quarantine essentials, which many students were especially grateful for since students arriving from abroad had to quarantine.”
Perhaps the quarantine and the sense of global community brought on by the current Covid-19 pandemic have encouraged the rise in volunteers, as students seek to ease the rough transition between countries with different access to vaccines, testing, and differing restrictions on things like masks and social distancing.
“So many of our students have had a difficult year,” said Caleb Sica, a fourth year Commerce major who is also a Global Greeter. “I transferred from community college in 2020 and it was lonely. The orientations, organizations and programs made the transition much easier. It was important for me to be a part of it, said Sica who is also a member of the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association.