For Nikhil Kulkarni ’27, his arrival at Cornell marked not just his first time in the United States, but his first time outside India. He said he had worried about adjusting to the food and weather at Cornell.
“I was also scared of impostor syndrome,” he said, who is in Cornell Engineering. “Just not fitting in socially. But after meeting so many people yesterday, I don’t think that’s a concern anymore. This is such a great community. I think I’m going to be fine.”
Kulkarni was one of nearly 200 new first-year and transfer students from 49 countries who participated in Prepare, a virtual and in-person preorientation for international undergraduates offered by the Office of Global Learning, part of Global Cornell. The office’s orientation for international graduate and professional students is on Aug. 20.
Prepare provides information about the international student experience, from immigration regulations to language resources. It also offers a crash course in all things Cornell, from career advising to mental health services. And it touches on social and cultural issues, such as the use of preferred pronouns and the university’s commitment to free speech and racial justice.
“It’s been amazing,” said Hurmatullah Habibi ’27, a Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration student who is originally from Afghanistan. “Yesterday I made 10 really good friends. I believe they’ll become lifelong friends.”
Habibi, the first person in his family to go to college, applied to Cornell while he was working the night shift as a telemarketer in Pakistan, where his family had fled after the Taliban took over their country. As someone who has taken a nontraditional path to college, he said, “I feared that people here would judge me. But it was the opposite. Everybody was happy that I had made it.”
Habibi said Prepare’s team-building activities were especially helpful in breaking down barriers between students. The program – now in its 35th year – offers games, role-playing exercises, a scavenger hunt and a cashless Casino Night. Prepare is supported by gifts from donors, including international alumni who attended in past years.
Prepare kicked off in July with a series of virtual orientation sessions for incoming international undergraduates. In one activity, participants listed their greatest fears about coming to Cornell, and the answers formed a word cloud. “Far and away, the biggest phrase in the cloud was ‘Making friends,’” said programming coordinator Lauren Gabuzzi.
The friendships forged in the program tend to last, said Brandon Lanners, the Office of Global Learning’s executive director. He said in the spring, when international students come together to celebrate graduation, they always mention the friends they made in their first days on campus. Those friendships transcend nationality.
“The collective experience of not being from here creates an essential level of bonding,” he said.
“We’re all international,” agreed Joan Rong ’25, a biomedical engineering major from China who has served as a Prepare mentor for the last two years. “It’s a shared identity.”
Rong is one of roughly 30 student mentors this year, on hand to answer questions and offer advice. At a panel of mentors at Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium in Klarman Hall, they urged the newcomers to play sports, join clubs, attend instructors’ office hours, “put yourself out there,” “don’t take 8 a.m. classes,” and “when it’s time to work, work; when it’s time to have fun, have fun.”
Jonathan Miller is a freelance writer for Global Cornell.