First-year student Yun Cheng arrived at UVA in August after a 30-hour plane trip from Beijing to Northern Virginia that included a 10-hour layover in San Francisco.
So when she was met at Dulles Airport by volunteers, whisked to Charlottesville in an air-conditioned bus with other students and greeted with fruit, bagels, cookies, banners and more volunteers at Tuttle Hall, she was appreciative.
“It’s nice to have a welcome like this,” Cheng says.
Cheng was among 100 students who began life at the University with a warm welcome by UVaExpress. The program provides free transportation and helpful hands for international students whose entrée into the U.S. might otherwise be less than auspicious.
Such was the case of a student traveling from Singapore who had to spend the night in a D.C. bus station in 2006. That was the last straw for Gordon Kirtland (Col ’77, GSBA ’81), president of the UVaClub of Singapore. He’d heard about similar travails in the past, so he contacted the Office of Engagement and now provides funding for the two-year-old program.
“They do all the work, and they do a great job at it, I must say,” Kirtland says.
This year, he and his wife, Chew-Mee (GSBA ’81), accompanied daughter Katie, a first-year student. One important part of the experience, says Chew-Mee, is that it allows students to meet others in similar circumstances. “They don’t feel so lonely.”
This year’s group included students from 23 countries and five continents. With eight buses and volunteers from 14 University departments, UVaExpress requires considerable coordination. “That our volunteers represent groups from radiology at the UVA Hospital to the Bolivar Network in Washington, D.C., reflects a global awareness among University of Virginia faculty, staff and alumni for the difficulty of acclimation to life in the U.S. today,” says Kate Malay (Col ’05), a former assistant director of regional engagement at the University.
The bus ride from Dulles to Charlottesville helps with that adjustment, giving students a chance to bond and ask questions.
“One girl was very interested in seeing cows,” Kirtland says. “Another was surprised at the number of churches.”