It was midnight when I arrived in the Des Moines airport from Honduras. As I walked through the empty corridors of the airport, nothing could be heard but the hum of the air conditioning and the sound of my footsteps. As other late travelers strolled past, I repeated the instructions I had received in a packet from the International Student Organization (ISO), just to make sure I was doing the right thing: “Go to the baggage claim area, and students in gray T-shirts will meet you and take you to Grinnell.” It was hard to imagine that someone was actually waiting for me in the middle of the night, especially when the airport seemed so dead.
When I finally got to the baggage claim area, all I felt was relief. Right in front was a table covered by a scarlet and black banner that read “Grinnell College” beneath the distinctive Grinnell insignia. Scarlet and black balloons floating above made it seem even more cheerful.
All of my worries abandoned me the instant I saw a person in a gray T-shirt approach me. He must have assumed I was the person he was waiting for, as I was the only nervous-looking girl amidst the older travelers. He introduced himself with a welcoming smile and said his name was MQ. He was from Korea. I noticed his shirt said, “Come to Grinnell, Experience the World.” My first thought was, how is this possible? By the end of that week, I already had the answer.
As I later found out, 59 other students from 33 countries around the world had also arrived in Grinnell on the same day. Within the next four days, the College staff would guide us through International Student Orientation (ISO), a program to prepare us for college life in the United States. There were sessions like “Immigration ABCs,” “Academic Life in the U.S.A.,” and “Academic Honesty.” We also visited downtown Grinnell in an exciting scavenger hunt. ISO concluded with an old-fashioned barn dance at the Lang Farm. This was our introduction to the United States, and in this way we rightfully claimed our titles as new “Grinnellians.”
Only during our last session was I able to see how diverse our group was. Karen Edwards, the coordinator of ISO, said, “Go to a place in the room where your country would be located geographically.” As I walked to the middle of the west side of the room, I glanced around. Everyone seemed to be thinking critically about where they would be. After a few seconds, we were all in our places. North of me there was a smiling Mexican and South of me there was a cheerful Costa Rican. Even farther south, I saw two girls, one from Ecuador and the other from Brazil. Across the “Atlantic,” the Europeans were chatting. To the east, the Asians were finding their seats, and to the south, the Africans were already settled down. As I looked around the room, everyone was speaking cheerfully to their neighbors, and I realized that this was how vast our world was. Despite this, we were still united here, in one place under our new title: “Grinnellians.”
When you come to Grinnell, make sure to travel the world. You can do this by simply speaking to an international student and asking him or her to speak to you in his or her native language. Ask about culture, and the many different things he or she has seen. When I think about it, the message on MQ’s shirt had a lot of truth: “Come to Grinnell, Experience the World.”
Glenda Lopez '12 is undeclared and from S.P.S., Honduras.