International RIT student gets unexpected escort from Chicago

Her peer advisor leader coincidentally assigned next to her on flight to Rochester

A. Sue Weisler

First-year RIT student Ria Lulla, left, met Anjali Jogeshwar and Nuzhet Ahamed, right, Ph.D. students and Peer Advisor Leaders, on their flight to Rochester on Jan. 12.

Not every new student traveling to Rochester Institute of Technology for the first time gets a personal escort on the flight to New York, but that’s what happened as a result of a pleasant coincidence for Ria Lulla.

Lulla, who experienced her first semester at RIT online last fall, left her home in India on Jan. 12 to come in person to Rochester for the spring semester, where she’s studying for a master’s degree in computer science. While taking her seat on the last leg of her flight in Chicago, she was assigned to sit next to another young woman who appeared to be a college student. That student helped Lulla put her carry-on luggage in the overhead compartment.

“I randomly asked her if she was from RIT and she said, ‘Yes, I am.’ And I’m thinking, ‘OK. I know you. I think I’ve spoken to you on email before,’” Lulla said.

And she was right.

That other student was Nuzhet Ahamed, a microsystems engineering Ph.D. student at RIT who is also a Peer Advisor Leader. As a PAL, Ahamed is assigned to 30 international students to help them transition to college and acclimate to RIT. Ahamed was traveling with her roommate, Anjali Jogeshwar, also a Ph.D. student at RIT and a PAL. Ahamed and Jogeshwar are also from India.

“I had connected with Nuzhet in August,” Lulla said. “She was one of the first people I spoke with from RIT, and she introduced me to RIT.”

“That was the fun fact,” Ahamed said. “I had no clue she was coming to Rochester to start the spring semester. It was purely coincidental. Such a thing has not happened to me before.”

RIT currently has 10 Peer Advisory Leaders who each are assigned up to 40 international students. Prior to COVID restrictions, they would welcome the students with a pizza and networking party. This year, they held several virtual information sessions for new students as well as provided resources for new students to access.

“When I first came to the U.S. to start my masters, I remember asking a lot of questions,” Ahamed said. “It was a new experience for me to leave my country. I had been through that anxiety. Every student who has come from an international country has faced this. My PAL made me feel calm and take the leap of faith to come here. They were very helpful.”

The PAL program was launched at RIT by International Student Services in the 1980s, and often produces lifelong friendships.

Ahamed became a PAL in the fall of 2018 to help other international students like herself.

“I have met students from many different countries, India and China, Nigeria, Malaysia, some from Korea, Pakistan, and someone from England,” she said. “His English is just so pleasing to hear. I was like, ‘Don’t stop talking!’”

Ahamed said most students have questions about housing, the curriculum and finding employment during their first semester.

“Some have questions about insurance and some have questions about proof of vaccinations,” she said. “And some ask questions about Rochester, where they can go when they want to play sports, and the fun things they can do, like the Lilac Festival.”

Once landing in Rochester, Ahamed and Lulla went their separate ways to their apartments, where they would stay until they cleared the COVID protocol. Ahamed helped Lulla get a ride to her apartment before they left the airport.

“I considered this a very warm welcome to Rochester,” Lulla said. “We exchanged numbers. I definitely want to stay in touch with her.”

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