Student Organization Helps Millikin’s International Students Transition to College Life

From helping set up a dorm room to building a network of friends, ISO helps students get a strong footing on campus

Millikin University

DECATUR – As the winter weather and snow has taken hold across Central Illinois, some Millikin international students are getting their first experience with frigid temperatures and frozen precipitation.

For senior Finance Major and international student Kentina Ishimwe, she will always remember arriving in Decatur from Burundi, a country in East Africa, in January more than three years ago.

“When I first came, I was mortified and scared. Everything was so different and I came in the spring semester, so it was cold out and it was snowing that first day,” she said. “But I was very excited and looking forward to coming here. I had some preconceptions about how it was going to be but of course it was different. The food, the people, the weather, these were things I had heard about, but I didn’t fathom how different it would be.”

Students playing a card game


Ishimwe quickly made a strong group of friends on campus and got involved in the International Student Organization (ISO), where she now serves as president.

“One of the best features here at Millikin is definitely the people. Millikin has had the best people since the first day. A lot of people were ready to help me even when they did not know me,” she said. “I was an introvert at first, and I would not talk to anybody unless they were in my small group of friends.  It is maturing and allowing yourself to accept the opportunities that come to you. Millikin helped that, and it gave me people that were pushing you and believing in you when you don’t even believe in yourself yet.”

Millikin hosts around 100 international students at any given time and ISO recently held an introductory game night for the newly arrived students at the Club House at the Woods Apartments. Ishimwe wants ISO to give students the best possible transition to their new environment.

outline of students made with flags

“From the day they arrive, we help them get into their room, get it set up and help them with the Wi-Fi. We reassure them about what they are going to be doing the next few weeks, so they are not intimidated,” she said. “We do these parties so that they can mingle, and they don’t just stay in their country group, and they can try and go into the whole community.”

For Adrian Sanchez Rodriguez, a senior Violin Performance Major originally from Venezuela, the transition to Decatur was a dramatic one.

“My first thought was that Decatur was very flat. My hometown is between two mountain chains and so it was a completely different thing. I do like the small town,” he said. “Millikin has a great support system with the other international students, and it lets us thrive in this environment. All the different offices help us when we don’t know something. I feel like the Midwest is very welcoming. Everyone is friendly and says ‘Hello’ and I think it is a wonderful thing.”

Students sitting at a table playing a card game


Adrian feels that his time at Millikin has broadened his career goals, to include more than just continuing his violin studies.

“Millikin has shown me there are opportunities outside of playing the violin, like orchestral conducting, scoring for the screen and making music for films,” he said. “Those are things that I realized I could do here at Millikin.”

Business Management Major Stelly Sandanassamy is beginning her second semester at Millikin this spring after coming to campus from her home in Paris, France. She credits ISO with helping her in that transition. 

Students playing billiards


“The first semester was very scary for me because I was far from home, and I felt alone but I have made a good group of friends. The organization gives me a lot of support,” she said. “It has really become like a little family. It made me not feel alone and everyone is so nice and friendly. Anytime you need something, you have someone that you can ask. I am grateful for that.”

The organization has several events planned for the spring semester, including an ice-skating event at the Decatur Civic Center and trips to Springfield and Indianapolis. The group will also hold an International Dinner, in which students cook dishes from their home country.