Welcoming International Students at GustavusHow our community makes Gusties from all parts of the globe feel right at home.
Posted on October 11th, 2023 by

Performers at the Organization for Latin American and Spanish Cultures (OLAS) Latinx Night, one of many multicultural celebrations all Gusties look forward to every year.

Last month, Gusties trekked up the Hill and found themselves a new home for the school year. Some had longer journeys than others, ranging from a one-hour car drive up Highway 169 to a 13-hour plane ride across the world. College can be an unfamiliar experience for all students, but for those who come from completely different cultural environments, it can be a riveting but daunting adventure. 

When first-year international students first arrive at the Minneapolis airport, they are greeted by returning students and volunteers from the Intercultural Partners (IP) program who work with the Center for International and Cultural Education (CICE) to aid international orientation programs and promote intercultural learning on campus. After getting moved in and receiving linens from the CICE, international orientation kicks off with numerous activities, including a tour of campus, a trip to Mankato, an opportunity to explore Saint Peter, help with getting social security numbers and a bank account set up, and more. The orientation also includes many opportunities to get to know fellow international students, Gustie Greeters, and Peer Assistants through multiple lunches, dinners, and informal events like bonfires.

Dominik Knutson ‘27, a first-year student from the Czech Republic and a member of the men’s tennis team, described the experience as extremely helpful in getting acquainted with the area and with other international students. “It was like a pregame to the freshman orientation,” he said. Knutson’s teammate, Taona Mhwandagara ‘25, a management major from Zimbabwe, added that jumping straight into the main freshmen orientation would’ve been a scary experience, and that the international orientation gave him the time to settle in and a bonding opportunity for the international students to “be confused together.”

Tennis teammates Odin Fouchier and Taona Mhwandagara

Knutson and Odin Fouchier ‘25, a computer science major from the Netherlands and another member of the men’s tennis team, said they thought college would be like the movies: think rowdy house parties with jam-packed basements and red Solo cups littering the lawn outside. Although the quaint town of Saint Peter may not quite depict the stereotypical party scene of American colleges, Hollywood may have gotten one thing right: Mhwandagara and Ama Tuffour ‘24, a computer science major from Ghana, noted how Gustavus can feel “clique-y” and emphasized how important it is for students to get involved in extracurricular activities. Mhwandagara exemplifies this. He’s a Peer Assistant, a Student Athlete Advisory Committee representative, a leader of Prepare Ministries, and a member of the Pan African Student Organization (PASO), and says he made most of his friends through activities rather than classes.

Fortunately, Gustavus offers numerous opportunities for international students to get involved, from their various student organizations to holding events such as International Student Day, where international students gather in the Chapel to showcase their culture. Additionally, international students can opt in to the International Friendship Family program, where families and individuals in the Saint Peter area can get acquainted with an international Gustie and connect them with the neighborhood community.

This being Minnesota, not all the potential shocks to international students are cultural. The -15F wind chills and knee-deep snow may present entirely unfamiliar challenges to anyone who grew up in a warm climate. For this reason, the CICE organizes a “winter closet” for Gusties to donate their used clothing for international students who may need winter gear. Additionally, the International Student Support Fund can cover funding for winter clothes (as well as medical expenses, transportation, and immigration fees) for international students.

Members of PASO at the Involvement Fair

When asked what qualities of our community these students would like to take home with them, Knutson and Fouchier raved about the friendliness of American culture and the “smile-y vibes.” In many parts of the world, starting a conversation with a stranger could earn you some strange looks and side-eyes, but they noted how, at Gustavus, most people are open to building new relationships. Such  connections are what makes these four years so special.“Gustavus is a tight community [with] great people surrounding you,” Fouchier said. 

Although every international student’s experience is unique, just like every other Gustie, international students can adapt to this new community atop the Hill and learn to call it home. By building relationships and exploring various sides of themselves via activities and clubs, these four years provide many moments of growth, discovery, and adventure that will last a lifetime.

Along those lines, what were these international students’ closing messages to all their Gustavus classmates? 

“Get involved in various activities and broaden your horizons.” —Tuffour

“Get to know yourself in order to serve others.” —Mhwandagara

“Enjoy your time while you’re here” —Fouchier

“Czech Republic is in the heart of Europe” —Knutson 



Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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