Transfer, Exchange and Visiting Student orientation fails to prepare students for life at Occidental

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By Molly Davis

Transfer, exchange and visiting (TEV) students at Occidental College contribute greatly to the diversity of the college. This year’s cohort is a testament to this — with 33 new TEVs enrolled for Fall 2018, making up over six percent of new students. Some transferred from colleges across the United States, while others came from countries across the globe to spend a semester or year here. This year’s group of TEV students have a great range of college experiences, cultures and identities that are unfamiliar to first years. As a transfer student myself, I believe that TEVs have already experienced most of the defining parts of college life and therefore have specific and different needs than first years. It is thus unnecessary to put this group under a single “welcome to college” umbrella as Oxy does.

The Office of Student Life (OSL) and the International Programs Office (IPO) certainly put in an effort to identify TEVs as a separate group, creating a closely knit community amongst us. All of the members of the TEV group attended orientation sessions together, which allowed us to interact more with each other. Now most of the members of the group are very close and do almost everything together. Besides these great aspects of orientation for TEVs, however, the OSL could do more to improve the process to meet our specific needs.

Transfer, exchange, visiting and first-year students were grouped into most of the orientation sessions together, even though these sessions were sometimes unnecessary. For example, the “TEV Student Information Session” with the registrar focused solely on transfer credits, but the TEV orientation schedule required exchange students to attend the session. TEVs also had to attend a discussion of the first years’ summer reading, “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.” This session could have been optional for TEVs at least; however, the entire TEV group had to sit through it and had no idea what the first years and the book panel were discussing. Occidental expects transfer and exchange students to have at least one year of college experience under their belt, so the college should have designed TEV orientation to provide more information about their new environment rather than simply repeating the “welcome to college” process.

The O-Team debrief sessions, held after major orientation sessions, were meant to give TEV students the opportunity to discuss the sessions with one another, but they did not really give the opportunity for the presenters to give detailed explanations of their views. For example, in one of the orientation sessions, the O-Team leaders told us to address new students as first years and not freshmen. Although they informed us that students here prefer gender-neutral terms — a concept that we all agree with — they did not give in-depth explanations as to why people might find a term like “freshmen” offensive and why we should do away with it completely. This does not help enable new students to shape our values; we felt that were being told what to believe and not being helped to find the right beliefs.

The organizers should also have dedicated more effort to teach us how to navigate our new space. Outside of the courteous nature of students, especially O-Team leaders, who were willing to go out of their way to help, there was limited practical guidance and support for our group throughout the orientation week. The OSL did not put much effort into giving us tips for everyday life on campus. Even after two weeks on campus, many TEVs — including myself — still do not know how to borrow books from the library. Lucas Sheng, an exchange student from the University of Melbourne, Australia, recounted that even after orientation, he is still not familiar with the campus.

Most of us were given the impression that TEVs have the Seminar Room in Fowler Hall available to us at all times, which turned out to be incorrect. On the first day of orientation, O-Team leaders led TEVs to the seminar room in Fowler Hall and told us that we could hang out in the room at any time because it was our space. The walls of the room had several posters on the wall with “Tips for TEVs” and TEV O-Team profiles. A few days after orientation, some of the TEV students, including myself, went to the room only to find a class there. This is one of the ways the orientation team did not provide us with valid information.

Unlike the first years, the other TEV students and I do not have enough time to explore courses or programs and figure things out gradually. It is therefore imperative that the OSL either organizes a separate orientation session for TEVs or includes more TEV-specific sessions to meet our needs. Even though the new TEV group makes up a small section of new students at Occidental, TEVs’ experiences and views contribute immensely to the diversity that helps build a wholesome college atmosphere. This group comes in with specific needs and demands, and its success and fulfillment at the college greatly depend on the kind of head start we receive.