by Sarah Geegan
University of Kentucky students come from all over the map — from as nearby as Fayette county, to as far away as Vietnam. Though their hometowns vary, they all share one thing in common; they're part of a Big Blue community that comes together during one of the most exciting times on UK's campus: K Week.
For international students at UK, K Week starts a week earlier, with K Week International Orientation, a series of events designed especially to support students coming to UK from abroad. More than 400 international undergraduate, graduate and CESL (Center for English as a Second Language) students will arrive during K Week International Orientation; UK currently hosts approximately 1,900 international students from 114 different countries.
The week allows them to meet and engage with other international students and to learn about important campus resources.
SahleMichael Hailu, a mechanical engineering student from Ethiopia participated in K Week International when he first arrived in Lexington; he said the experience helped him grow not only as a student, but as a person.
"When you come to a different place, the best part of being a part of a different country is the transition you make into the culture and the things you learn," he said. "If you just stick to the community you're used to, there's nothing you're learning and there is nothing you're experiencing. So coming to a place like Lexington was a really great opportunity for me to adjust to a new environment. I'm glad that I utilized it to its full potential."
Elizabeth Leibach, director of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at the UK International Center (UKIC) sees K Week International as a soft landing to what will be a challenging and exciting journey in the lives of many international students at UK.
"Some of these students have never been out of their home country or even on an airplane until this trip," Leibach said. "Students who take full advantage of this week, and the various sections of UK 101, which are also taught by some of the ISSS staff, will be more successful in navigating the maze of college life and U.S. culture."
ISSS provides expertise in the advising and immigration needs of the more than 1,900 international students, 325 international faculty and staff and 250 exchange visitors at UK. ISSS also administers university compliance with evolving federal regulations and facilitates the well-being of all international students, faculty, staff and scholars. K Week International plays a big role in enhancing students' well-being.
The week includes social events that allow students to interact with other international students. Bill Aboagye, a medical laboratory science sophomore from Ghana, said that the best part of K Week International for him were the relationships that he generated.
"I made friends from my first day here at UK and in the U.S. generally, and they are still my friends now," Aboagye said. "Many people helped me out with many other things that I needed help with, my academics, with getting to network with people and finding a first family away from home. Lexington is an amazing community. There are many people that you can easily talk to, even people you don't know, and now UK people are my family."
The week also includes informative sessions with speakers and representatives from campus resources. An Ho, a biochemistry senior from Vietnam, said that she appreciated both types of events, social and informative.
"I received a lot of information about immigration status, for example, and how to maintain that, so the information was very helpful," Ho said. "Also, I'm kind of an introverted person, so it's sometimes hard for me to talk with people, especially in English, because it's not my first language. These events helped me try to be brave, so I talked to more people. The more people I talked to, I found that they are really friendly. I found out I had to open up more."
Zinan Chen, an alumna from Beijing, China, with a degree in mathematics, said that K Week International fostered a feeling of unity — an idea that international students at UK would embrace their new community together.
"I remember sitting outside UK International Center in a round circle talking about culture shock," Chen said. "To listen to other international students talking about it makes you less afraid because everyone is facing problems, and it gets better. I would tell anyone not to be scared to come here; I love Lexington. Being from Beijing, a very crowded city, it was a big difference coming here when I first arrived, but now when I go visit other places in the U.S., I always feel like Lexington is my hometown now."
UKIC internationalizes UK's campus by recruiting students from around the world — students who transform the university through diverse perspectives in education and research, as well as unique insight into global issues.
“Internationalization of our campus is an imperative for a number of reasons," said UK President Eli Capilouto. "We provide an even better education for our students when the environment is diverse and inclusive, when students are engaged with people from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds. That is precisely what they will encounter as they compete in a global, interdependent economy."
The UKIC provides leadership, raises awareness, facilitates the pursuit of international education and encourages global collaborations for the university community and the Commonwealth.
K Week International began on Saturday, Aug. 17. Click here for a full schedule of events.