RIT international students waiting for a friendship volunteer

Rochester Global Connections bonds students to the community

Chris Thornton

Shweta Arora and Brenda Thornton, participants in Rochester Global Connections, enjoyed a visit to the Strasenburgh Planetarium in Rochester last weekend.

Faculty and staff members at Rochester Institute of Technology are encouraged to volunteer with Rochester Global Connections, which pairs community members with international students to help them feel more welcome.

There are 30 RIT international students currently in the program, but another seven are waiting for a pairing.

Rochester Global Connections and RIT’s International Student Services are hosting an informational meet-and-greet for international students from RIT and the University of Rochester and the friendship volunteers they’ve been paired with from 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday in the Bamboo Room, Campus Center, room 2650. Those interested in participating in the program may also attend. Advanced registration is preferred.

Brenda Thornton, a senior staff specialist for Academic Affairs, joined Rochester Global Connections last year because she wanted to help an international student feel welcome in the community.

“My daughter lives in another country, and I know how much it has meant to her when colleagues have invited her to meet their families and experience their culture,” she said.

She is paired with Shweta Arora, a graduate student from New Delhi, India, studying sustainable systems at the Golisano Institute for Sustainability. Arora is coincidentally working at a co-op where Thornton’s husband, Chris, works.

“I have truly enjoyed getting to know Shweta and showing her some of my favorite things about Rochester,” Thornton said. “She’s given us great advice about where to buy Indian food here in town.”

Arora didn’t know a single person when she arrived in Rochester, so she signed up with Rochester Global Connections in hopes of making some local friends such as Thornton “to explore Rochester with someone for whom the city is home and see it from their perspective and to learn more about American culture and food.”

They’ve met for lunch on campus, watched a show at the planetarium, dined at a café on Park Avenue and talked about national parks.

“It’s been one of my best experiences here and I would recommend international students join the program,” Arora said.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to know Shweta,” Thornton said. “She’s such a nice person. I don’t think it’s a big time commitment and it makes me happy that we can participate and make a student feel more welcome here.”

There are about 2,400 international students from 100 countries at RIT’s main campus.

Faculty or staff members interested in participating as a friendship volunteer need to apply.

The applications will be screened before a pairing is suggested, said Megan Kless, assistant director of International Student Services at RIT.

Alexandra Malespin, community outreach coordinator, Rochester Global Connections, said volunteers are responsible for helping guide their international student throughout their college experience.

“We’re hoping they make a connection and introduce them to the local Rochester culture,” Malespin said. “It could be an activity like grocery shopping, going to a park, meeting up for coffee or going to some events. It could be any activity as long as they are able to bring them.”

Suggested activities should be free or low cost – keeping in mind college students have a limited income – and open to the public.

The frequency of the meetings can vary, but it is suggested they spend five or six hours each month together, either weekly or biweekly, and they are asked to maintain communication.

“It they can’t meet for a week, they can at least text or call each other,” Malespin said.

The volunteers aren’t expected to help with schoolwork, become a sponsor for a visa or help students get a job.

Recommended News