Every fall, more than 700 international undergraduate and graduate students converge on the University of Virginia to start their studies. But as anyone who’s ever attended classes on Grounds will tell you, the full experience of going to UVA encompasses much more than classes.
It’s easy to imagine an uninitiated, newly minted ‘Hoo being overwhelmed upon arrival. That’s where Global Greeters come in to help.
A volunteer group with UVA’s International Studies Office, the Global Greeters do their part to ease the transition to life in Charlottesville through supportive programs that range from picking up students from their flights in Washington, D.C., to hosting Lawn picnics, shopping trips, Downtown Mall excursions, and “insider’s tours,” where newcomers learn some of the less obvious tips about how to navigate Grounds.
Given the McIntire School’s global view of business, perhaps it’s unsurprising that Commerce students are heavily involved in the group: They represent three of the four-member executive team and count three other members among the undergraduate greeters, with the majority of them being international students themselves.
We spoke with Commerce School Class of ’23 third-years Ellie (Kehui) Chen, Maria Paula Guzman, Adrian Mamaril, and Abla Samrhouni about why they joined the student group and how it has complemented both their time at the University as well as the globally positioned approach of their McIntire coursework.
Chen, who comes to UVA from Shanghai, China, joined Global Greeters in her first year, after benefiting from social events like the barbeque and insider’s tour when she began her studies.
“I hope to help international students navigate the first few weeks of adapting to college as well as a completely foreign country. Additionally, I know I love making new friends and talking to people from diverse backgrounds about their experiences,” she says.
Chen chose to pursue a major in Commerce, citing McIntire’s reputation, robust career resources, strong student clubs, and a curriculum that would also help her to develop valuable soft skills. Those competencies in communication and working with diverse teams that are stressed through the School’s hallmark Integrated Core will provide a solid foundation for her current coursework, for studying abroad next fall in Japan at Hitotsubashi University, as well as her long-term plans of pursuing an MBA and eventually finding a management position in a global company.
With Global Greeters, she decided to become a part of the executive team to have more opportunities organizing orientation events; Chen is also excited that the position has given her the chance to work directly with the UVA international student community.
Another international student, a Commerce and Foreign Affairs double major with a minor in Data Analytics, Mamaril is a product of Manila, Philippines, but he has a family history tied to UVA. His parents and eldest sister lived in Charlottesville in the mid-1990s while his father was pursuing a post-doctoral degree in the School of Medicine; his second sister was born at the UVA hospital. Having the connection to the University didn’t make his attending a forgone conclusion, but after visiting Grounds he says he was “charmed.”
Now in his second year as a Global Greeter and also part of its executive team, Mamaril thinks that being a part of the volunteer group has been a practical way to help introduce students to life at UVA while complementing some of the work he’s done with international student affairs for UVA’s Student Council.
“We face this issue of not only making [international students] feel welcome, but also making sure that their voices are heard,” Mamaril says, explaining how he took it upon himself to act as an official representative helping them negotiate with UVA Housing and Residence Life. The experience inspired him to join the executive team to foster connections. “It’s all about building a community. That comes with starting them at UVA in the best possible manner with other international students, but also with domestic students, who are really interested in helping them out, too.”
Without having ever visited the University before starting her first semester, Guzman was determined to come to UVA from her home in Bogota, Colombia. A Commerce major and Dance minor who dedicates a considerable percentage of her time to rehearsals, she says she knows how challenging it can be as an international student and was motivated to do her part to ease the transition for newcomers.
Guzman began working with Global Greeters because she wanted international students to be seen and have them recognize that others are reaching out to include them in all aspects of life at UVA. “Being an international student myself made it easier to do so. I know it is very special to come to a new country and meet someone who is kind of in the same position as you,” she says. The interactions have enhanced her McIntire experience and reinforced that these types of cross-cultural connections are worth pursuing within her studies as well; for that reason, she’s currently considering the Global Commerce Track.
Northern Virginia native Samrhouni is pairing her McIntire studies with a minor in Public Policy and looking toward concentrations in IT and Management, as well as a Global Commerce Track. With an extended family in Morocco she’s visited over many summers, her travel and cultural aspirations have her studying abroad in Paris next semester. Samrhouni plans on using the time to also refine her French skills while exploring potential career connections for working in France after UVA. She finds that learning about other cultures promotes appreciation for diversity and fosters an overriding philosophy determining the way people across the world approach how they live.
“There’s not one single belief, not one single perspective, and it’s encouraged me to be more divergent in my thinking. There are so many solutions and points of view,” she says. “It’s important not only for understanding others, but also in communicating with people, to be able to be respectful, open-minded, and sensitive to their differences.”
Now in her second year as a Global Greeter, Samrhouni was drawn to the group because it allowed her to assist others in need of friendly advice as they transition into two new cultures simultaneously: the U.S. and UVA.
“I like helping people by guiding and advising them, especially through some experiences that I might know more about. I can really empathize—even though I’m not an international student—since both of my parents are immigrants and I know their struggles,” she says.
Comm Course Connections
While gaining hands-on experience recruiting volunteers, leading a team, and planning activities, Chen says that she sees parallels to running a business. She references the Integrated Core modules such as organizational behavior, communication, marketing, and strategy that have had a hand in how she thinks about her work on the Global Greeters team and her other extracurricular activities.
Though she believes potential exists for including more non-U.S. case studies in the coursework, she says that McIntire strives to support a global approach to business education, noting the Global Scholars Program and study-abroad opportunities. She also credits the School with trying to promote diversity within the Integrated Core’s eight blocks and Commerce Career Services for providing resources to international students as well.
Mamaril has aspirations to stay stateside for graduate school, and is considering a career in public policy to combine his business and foreign affairs studies to solve infrastructure and education problems in the Philippines. Yet despite noting that many of his classmates will likely be employed in the U.S., he says that much of the team projects he has undertaken at McIntire will prepare him to collaborate more effectively, no matter any of his future teammates’ backgrounds.
“Your clients are going to come from everywhere and you might actually work abroad. When you’re working on a project, it forces you to think critically about these things and cultivate a mindset that takes global considerations seriously,” he says, referencing an in-depth case analysis of an aspect of the Japanese construction industry.
“We had to go through the entire case not having any understanding of how construction works in Japan. Although it was hard for us, it really prompts students to think about these types of issues, “That’s going to be different here, so how do we actually act upon this?”
As Samrhouni is only a few months into her McIntire coursework, she admits that it’s difficult to assess the full extent of the global aspects of her Comm School education. But she’s looking forward to discovering more as she continues her studies, potentially taking on the Global Commerce Track and putting some into practice when studying abroad.
Her Organizational Behavior course has already provided crucial insight into working across different cultures, however, teaching her essential features of communication such as cultural sensitivity and methods for maximizing the benefits of diverse groups while minimizing the potential for conflict. “Which is part of the reason I joined Global Greeters; I like working with people from different places,” she says.