Portrait of Sree P S '24
Sree P S ’24

I will never forget the sense of relief I felt as I got off the shuttle in the circle outside the Woods-Penniman building on a cold January afternoon in 2021. I had spent the past 34 hours tucked into seats in pressurized airplane cabins and the secured, sterile environment of airports. I had not slept, and I was on the other side of the planet from my home in India; my body’s sense of time had been turned upside down. I was soon greeted by the smiling face of a worker with the Francis and Louise Hutchins Center for International Education (CIE), standing six feet away, who showed me the way to the Commons, an indoor auditorium fitted with the flags of more than 70 countries. There were clothes befitting Kentucky’s climate, neatly arranged on tables for us to choose.

More CIE staff arrived to greet me and the other international students who had just arrived, and among them was Kye Anderson, the international student and scholar advisor with whom I had communicated through email to get through the multitude of steps involved in being accepted as an international student at Berea College. I handed him the last bits of paperwork needed, like COVID-19 test results and my passport, to be photocopied. I was taken to my suite in James Residence Hall where I would quarantine for the next two weeks. The room was decked out with bags of different shades of blue filled with goodies sponsored by many of Berea’s departments. The bags included socks, scarfs, sunglasses, chocolate and a bottle of Ale-8-One. My bed had already been made for me. I let myself fall into its comfort, and I slept for a very long time.

Kye Anderson greets an arriving international student at the Lexington airport

Being chosen as one of Berea’s 35 admitted international students from more than 1,000 applicants is a matter of great privilege. From the day we receive our acceptance letters, we place a great degree of trust in this institution and take a leap of faith across oceans. The CIE and its International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) are an essential part of bridging the diverse body of international students into Berea. Unlike other institutions, Berea does not have many international students from the same countries or regions. Instead, there are students from more than 70 countries on campus at any given time. Communicating with and advising such a diverse and varied population is no easy task.

Before arriving in Berea, I bombarded the CIE with many questions about campus, culture, costs, visas and travel documents. The CIE sent answers as promptly as possible, specific to my circumstances. The staff sent out instructions and advice on how to advocate for myself to the consular officer to obtain a visa. This was particularly complicated during the COVID-19 pandemic when the functions of consulates and airports often were restricted.

Being chosen as one of Berea’s 35 admitted international students from more than 1,000 applicants is a matter of great privilege.

Sree P S ’24

“[We] communicate with the [international] students on a regular basis,” Anderson said. “One of the things we take into consideration is internet access and what that looks like to a particular student so that we can make sure we are providing the best support possible. For example, we may give more grace to a student who might be in a controlled environment when it comes to internet access. We work with that student, understanding that they might take a bit longer responding back to us, or we might need to respond to a student on a certain timeframe.”

Kye Anderson greets an international student with a hug.
Kye Anderson, international student and scholar advisor, greets a student arriving at the Lexington airport. When Center for International Education staff welcome international students from long trips overseas, they greet them by name, help carry their luggage and offer them a safe, friendly face to connect with instantly. Photo by Crystal Wylie ’05

Once I got to Berea, I was excited to see the faces of the people I had only corresponded with through email. I was able to spend more time with them during the extensive orientation process.
A traditional orientation program for international students includes placement tests, campus tours, information sessions about class schedules and work positions, opening a local bank account, setting up direct deposits and filing legal paperwork to receive social security cards. As we acclimate to life in Kentucky, the CIE staff prepares our food as we are slowly introduced to the Americanized food in Dining Services. We build a strong sense of community as international students, surpassing the cultural differences involved in belonging to vastly different countries across the world.

“In some ways, working with international students is a little bit easier in terms of bringing them together,” Anderson said. “The students come to campus one week before all our other students. And by the end of the orientation, we have a small group of what I would like to call ‘United Nations.’”

group of international student graduates pose with their countries' flags.
Kye Anderson (far right) stands with a group of 2020 international student graduates during a recognition ceremony in the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education. Photo by Jay Buckner

The CIE provides ongoing support to international students during our four years in Berea. They help us keep track of the processes involved in maintaining our immigration status with the federal government. This might include help with filing taxes, timely submission of documentation and ensuring compliance with employment laws. The meticulous attention to legal requirements is the foundation upon which many international students thrive in Berea. The oldest and one of the largest student organizations on campus, the Cosmopolitan Club, is an international student club at its core, though any Berea College student is welcome. International students have the highest retention rates of all student demographics at Berea and contribute greatly to the cultural vibrancy one may witness at events like the Cosmo Show and Mountain Day.

During the first semester, the CIE is intentional in placing international students as roommates with domestic students in residence halls. This small measure enhances what Anderson calls cultural “cross-pollination.”

The CIE’s steadfast advocacy for international students is a testament to Berea’s commitment to bringing together “all peoples of the earth.” The staff on the first floor of the Woods-Penniman building makes sure international students feel safe to walk into their offices to ask questions and receive advice. It is the warmth and hospitality with which they approach each of their students that translates across cultural differences to retain Berea’s unity in diversity.

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