From Inside USD — Down 1-0 at halftime of its season-opening game against the University of Buffalo last Friday, the USD men’s soccer team was off to one side of the Torero Stadium field to discuss second-half strategy.
As that happened, Thomas Debray was one of five Torero fans picked for a contest. Contestants sprinted to midfield, collected a soccer ball and kicked the ball into the net for a goal. Debray, running as fast as he could, reached the ball first and completed the task to claim a free pizza as his prize.
After posing for a celebratory photo, Debray returned to his seat. Meanwhile, the USD soccer team returned to the field and proceeded to take care of business with four unanswered goals, including two in the first two minutes. While it was an impressive offensive display, one might concur that the sizzling halftime strike by Debray, an international exchange student from Strasbourg, France, was a sign of good things to come.
Debray sat with nearly 100 fellow USD international students and staff members from the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) who’d walked from Serra Hall to the stadium. A social event during USD’s international student orientation, both Debray’s effort and the Toreros’ second-half surge gave the latter’s newest fans plenty of reasons to smile, clap and cheer.
“I like that I’m not just coming to the U.S. on holiday, but I will be here for one year,” said Debray, a senior who is studying business marketing and wants to learn entrepreneurship from a U.S. perspective. Being at USD opens up other possibilities, too. “I want to discover all of San Diego. I want to travel, do a road trip to other parts of California, to Las Vegas and see the Grand Canyon.”
The University of San Diego, just beginning its 2014-15 academic year, is a growing popular destination institution for international students. The student population has grown immensely in the last few years. USD had more than 700 international undergraduates, graduate and law students in 2013, OISS Director Chia-Yen Lin said, and that number could rise this year.
The large group on Friday, despite members being from several different countries, was unified. They wore white t-shirts with “Torero Time” and a picture of mascot Diego Torero’s face. Individually, students were happy they’d chosen USD.
Russian Alexandra Leonidova is an incoming freshman from Togliatti, southeast of Moscow. Interested in becoming a doctor, she’s looking into USD’s pre-med program and plans to major in either biology or chemistry. She’s not new to the U.S., either, with visits to Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York at age 15. Two years later, she was in Wisconsin on a scholarship for a Future Leaders Exchange program.
California was where she wanted to attend college. Via USD’s website, she learned about its dedication to international students and study and that USD’s Campus Recreation offers ballroom dance classes.
“It’s a dream come true,” she said. “When I saw USD on its website, I thought it would be the perfect place to be.”
Another USD sport with a strong international presence is tennis. Lisa Schlatter, a native of Tyrol, Austria, is a freshman who will vie for a spot on Coach Sherri Stephens’ women’s team this year. Schlatter checked out USD’s academic programs and has interest in studying business. But she’s equally focused on tennis, being among other international students and immersing herself in American culture.
“It is a beautiful campus, great weather and I’ve already been to the beach,” she said. “It’s been easy to find new friends. I look forward to playing tennis and being more independent.”
Schlatter, Leonidova and Debray and most new USD international students seem to enjoy what USD has to offer. Seeing how the international student orientation programming has gone so far, this makes junior mechanical engineering major, Khaled Alaskar of Kuwait, very happy.
“I want to share my experiences with the other international students and help them not make the same mistakes I did,” said Alaskar, who is part of the international student orientation team. “I want them to know I understand what they’re going through right now.”
Alaskar’s “mistakes” aren’t truly that; more so, he’s now doing for other international students what current OISS Associate Director Greg Grassi, a 1996 USD alumnus, did for him.
“Greg helped me come out of my shell,” he said. “I now have a lot of American friends as well as international friends. It’s been easy for me to blend the two together.”
Alaskar’s advice to other international students is for them to not be shy, to get involved on campus and take full advantage of campus resources such as meeting with professors during office hours, visiting and seeking help through the Center for Student Success and finding an organization or activity that connects them within the campus community.
“That’s why I joined the international orientation team,” Alaskar said. “I’d meet RA (Resident Assistants) and PA (Preceptorial Assistants) students and I’d always see how happy they were, happy about what they were doing. Being an orientation leader, I’ve found an opportunity and now I know what that happy feeling is like, too. I recommend that all students to get out of the bubble.”
Friday’s soccer game was a start. Noticeably, there were loud cheers from the group during pre-game player introductions, especially when a Torero international student-athlete’s name was called. It was a reminder that anywhere they go on campus, there’s always the potential to find a place that makes them feel right at home.
— Ryan T. Blystone