Osiyah was admitted to Syracuse University with a financial aid package that made it possible to experience what once seemed unattainable. It was hard to leave her three older siblings, beloved niece and nephews and especially her mother, but she keeps them close to her heart. “I miss my mum’s cooking, her scent and her hugs,” she says. “But she really deserves to brag that she has a daughter abroad!”
Designing a Dream Career
Now a sophomore in the School of Information Studies (iSchool) majoring in information management and technology, Osiyah plans to add a minor in computer science this fall. “I’m interested in user experience and interface design, so I’m learning the basics of UX/UI design. My dream career would be to do research and analysis to understand the user needs and friendliness of a platform developed by a company, and then create a prototype of that platform.”
After arriving in Syracuse in 2019, she found that adjusting to American life would require an open mind and good attitude. “Michelle is someone who maximizes every opportunity she is given with joy and gratitude,” says Mathews. “Within a month of being on campus, she had tried ice skating, joined a slam poetry group, and attended a play, several guest lectures and Mass at our interfaith chapel. In her second semester, Michelle joined our admissions student ambassador group, applied to be a resident advisor and found a part-time job in athletic concessions, where she assisted in the training of new employees. Her smile lights up our office when she visits and fills us in on her latest adventures.”
In 2019-20, international students comprised 19.6 percent of Syracuse University’s total enrollment and 14.4 percent of undergraduates. The University is committed to ensuring that international students are part of a supportive community, Osiyah observes. “Everyone from resident advisors to faculty makes a student feel welcomed here. It’s amazing how they become more like your immediate family.” Ongoing support is tailored to individual needs like assistance with visa status, travel itinerary and even arranging rides to and from the airport.
The Center for International Services encourages student immersion with activities like Mix-It-Up, a biweekly gathering where students share a meal and engage in facilitated discussions about identity, intercultural communication and cultural differences. In the fall, there’s an International Student Welcome dinner where undergraduates from across the globe dine together, meet faculty and staff, and learn about their new home.
Osiyah quickly learned that having a diverse group of friends was the best remedy for homesickness. “I was so shy about making friends at first, but I had a God-sent roommate,” she says. “Sofia de la Grana is a cocktail of everything amazing and has taught me so much. She introduced me to her friends, forced me into crowds and always took me along to the Quad, the Dome and the mall. I met a lot of friends during international student orientation week and made some close friends in the residence hall and in my classes.”
Poetry in a Safe Space
She discovered Verbal Blend shortly after arriving in Syracuse. The seven-week spoken-word program boosts students’ confidence in writing and performing original poems. Run by Cedric Bolton through the Office of Multicultural Affairs, it features writing workshops, student performances and peer reviews. “Verbal Blend has given me new ways to express myself and address societal issues,” Osiyah says. “I love it because it creates a safe space, yet still makes you aware of the power your voice carries.”
Being immersed in a new environment in an unfamiliar country has some unexpected benefits. “The culture is definitely different,” Osiyah observes. “But what really stands out is the openness in conversation about everything—mental health, sex education, diversity, race and racism, the justice system, religion and LGBTQ+ issues.”
There’s also the American fondness for consumerism. “Being an aunt is the best thing about being part of a family, and my niece and nephews are skilled at making me bankrupt,” she jokes. “They sway me to impulse purchases I can’t even explain, but the good news is they are only 7, 4 and 2 once!”