International students find a home on the Hill

Milagros Pazmino, a freshman from Quito, Ecuador, is a member of HOLAS, the Hilltopper Organization of Latin American Students, which specializes in bringing Latin American students together to be involved in the community and provide cross-cultural collaboration.

Morgan Hornsby

When Flavio Chavarri moved to Bowling Green from Arequipa, Peru in 2014, he came alone.

Chavarri, now a senior, came to WKU for the promise of a beautiful campus, academic options and its international scope.

Chavarri is one of over 1,300 international students currently at WKU. With the help of a variety of student organizations, students from over 70 countries have adjusted to life on the Hill.

“International students want friends, myself included,” Chavarri said. “With friends, WKU is wonderful. When they start to feel like family, Western starts to feel like home.”

To meet the need of friendship in the international community, Chavarri started an international fraternity, Beta Gamma Omega, in February. Beta Gamma Omega is the first international fraternity on WKU’s campus and is an Alpha chapter in the United States. Currently, 21 members from various countries hold membership, but Chavarri said he hopes to double that number in the next year.

“When international students come here, they don’t have friends or family or anyone,” Chavarri said. “Beta Gamma Omega is a liaison between students and the rest of the campus. I’m trying to integrate more students so that WKU can be their second home too.”

For other students, different organizations can help ease the transition into life in a new country.

Lakshmi Venkata, a graduate student from Hyderabad, India, said Baptist Campus Ministries helped him feel at home on WKU’s campus.

When Venkata moved from his parents’ home in India to Bowling Green, it was the first time he’d been away from them. Through BCM, Venkata met a family who invited him to dinner at their home.

“It finally started to feel like a home away from home,” Venkata said.

Now, Venkata is the president of the Indian Student Association, which he said helped him find community as well.

Milagros Pazmino, a freshman from Quito, Ecuador, also made friends through a student organization. Pazmino is a part of HOLAS, Hilltopper Organization of Latin American Students, which she said is an interesting and fun mix of Hispanic culture and community.

For Pazmino, the hardest part of getting her education in the United States has been learning the language. Before beginning undergraduate studies, Pazmino was in ESLi or English as a Second Language International program. The organization operates in universities in Canada and the United States to help international students with English.

Despite the struggle, Pazmino has found community in HOLAS and her dormitory.

“It’s a sacrifice,” Pazmino said. “People come here for a better life, myself included.”

Chandra Polavarapu, a graduate student from Gudivada, India, said student organizations tend to cater to undergraduate students. Though he is a part of the Indian Student Association, he says it is harder for graduate students to meet others. Polavarapu said he found community in BCM and the Indian Student Union, but said that the best way for him to meet people was through parties.

Polavarapu plans to graduate in May, but is unsure of where he’ll go next. He said he is drawn to cities like Nashville and New York, but that he has a family and a girlfriend in India.

“We’ll see where life takes me,” Polavarapu said.

Regardless of where international students like Polavarapu decide to go after graduation, many organizations at WKU try to ease their transition to life in America and prepare them for what’s next. The result, for some, is a diverse and unique college experience.

“We’re from all over the world,” Chavarri said. “All over campus, there’s a collection of different perspectives and experiences. That’s the advantage of WKU.”

Reporter Morgan Hornsby can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected].