Home is more than a place— it’s a feeling of belonging, community and contentment. For many students, college quickly becomes a home away from family and familiarity. This transition into college life is easier for some than others, especially when it comes to international students.
This year, 20 international undergraduate and graduate students left familiar life abroad for a semester or longer at Samford. From the moment they landed in the U.S, Samford’s team of International Ambassadors have served as liaisons, peer mentors and friends to help these students settle into life in America.
Senior marketing, management and entrepreneurship major, Mollie Master is spending her last year on campus as an ambassador focused on the study abroad realm. Serving in the Global Engagement Office ,or GEO, had always been a dream for Master, until she made it a reality this past spring.
“I’m a daughter of an immigrant. I love to study abroad. I have a passion for all of the things that the GEO does,” Master said. “I wanted to be there as a resource for students who have just entered a whole different world,” she noted.
This past summer, Master helped plan Explore Birmingham Day, in which international students were warmly welcomed to the U.S. by the International Ambassador team.
After their arrival and first orientation session, the Ambassadors highlighted aspects of Birmingham in a creative tour. From Saturn coffee shop to geocaching, these ambassadors gave a genuine taste of Birmingham. This day of welcoming and fellowship has been Master’s favorite memory as an Ambassador so far.
“I just wanted to be able to have a part in helping them feel like ‘this is a home for you’,” Master said.
Master said she hopes that her contribution as an International Ambassador inspires others to reach out to students studying abroad at Samford and for this campus to foster a more inclusive environment.
“I would like to see more of an effort to get more of the campus involved as part of (the) responsibility as American citizens to represent this country well,” Master said. “Part of that is remembering our roots of being a melting pot and embracing everyone that comes.”
Gloria Roy, a senior pursuing her call into global ministry, shared her perspective of the GEO as an Ambassador focused on the International Scholars. Roy is an international student herself; she came to the U.S. from India during her freshman year. The home that she found through the GEO that year inspired her to become an Ambassador herself.
“They really do a good job in being a part of your life,” Roy said regarding the sincere friendships Ambassadors make with international students.
Relationships and connections are central aspects of the GEO’s mission.
“A lot of what we do is just relationship, we plan events and we facilitate events with the mindset of creating an environment for international students to have a community,” Roy said. “We create an environment where they know that they belong to someone, that we are there for them and that they feel connected.”
Dream Day at the GEO is one of Roy’s favorite times as an ambassador. This day involves ambassadors and advisers sharing their ideas and passions for the year ahead in how they might best serve international students both coming to Samford and traveling outside of the U.S. Together, they dream big and take action to make campus-wide events possible. International Education Week, the Study Abroad Fair and the Global Connections Week are just a few of the events that the GEO undertakes each year. Roy said she values the growth and confidence gained as a student leader during Dream Day.
Roy looked back at her time at Samford and in the GEO fondly when she said, “My junior year was my favorite year. A lot of that has to do with working and being involved with the GEO. They just really allow you to seek into who you are as an individual and grow in yourself and use that and bring that to the table.”
Roy shared her dream for the future of the ambassador program and the greater GEO.
“I would love to see what we’re doing just continue,” Roy said. “I would (want to) come back and see people loving each other in the way I’ve seen them in the past.”
Jill Fisse plays a key role at the GEO with her focus on studying abroad opportunities. As assistant director of global engagement, she said she looks forward to the GEO’s unveiling of new initiatives, branding and campus connecting events in the coming semesters.
“We really want to make our connection, because the international students here at Samford are study abroad students as well,” Fisse said. “That’s who our office serves. We serve all Samford study abroad students— students who are going out and students who are coming in.”
Carol Graffeo, Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of Mollie Master