Being far from home for an extended time is hard enough, but not knowing the language or the people adds another stressor, especially for young students. Moraine Valley Community College’s International Student Ambassadors program helps bridge that gap and has just included American students for the first time this semester, boasting the largest membership in the program’s history.

This semester, 38 students are involved in the program, 12 of whom are American-born, with 15 countries represented. Members work on leadership skills, present their countries and cultures, and discuss the difference between education in the United States and around the world. They also assist with new international student orientation, which includes campus tours. The program truly aims to make the students from abroad feel more welcome.

“The biggest thing for international students is that they want to build friendships and meet American students. This [Student Ambassadors] has opened a door for them. They’re in meetings, making friends and learning from each other,” said Nereida Encina, International Student Services specialist and advisor of the ambassadors. “American students are in our office learning Korean and Japanese and helping the international students learn English. They’re learning how similar their lives are despite cultural differences.”

This current crop of students is becoming more involved on campus, meeting with different clubs and departments, and planning projects. They have their sights set on creating a scholarship for international students. Mostly this group brings a sense of comfort and camaraderie.

“It was really hard adjusting to the culture and making friends. I tried to talk to people, and I’d get short answers. This group helped me mingle, and I didn’t feel alone. I’m far from home, and this provides a place to make it easier and break the ice,” said Mauricio Suarez, from Venezuela, who started at Moraine Valley in 2017.

Meanwhile, the American students joined to expand their horizons and learn from their peers.

“It’s important to understand people’s lifestyles. It makes everyone closer, brings me closer to people around me. I get to see how other people live their lives and learn about other cultures,” said Dunya Yasin, a student ambassador from Chicago.

“I’m more aware of how different we are but how we work together. In the International Student Affairs office we’re like one big family. It’s made me more social.”