International students experience Penn State Lehigh Valley

PSU-LV faculty member Liz Keptner treats international students from Mumbai to a taste of home.

PSU-LV faculty member Liz Keptner treats international students from Mumbai to a taste of home. (L-R) Shloka Kulkarni, Harsh Desai, Suryanarayanan “Surya” Sayee Subramanian, Keptner, Vaishnavi Ajila, and Pallari Mujumdar

Credit: Liz Keptner

CENTER VALLEY, Pa.— Traveling abroad, soaking in global perspective on politics, economics, history, and culture clearly offers life-long benefits. But short of packing your bags for foreign lands, there’s no better way to bolster the global experience than sharing the campus with international students — like the five young minds Penn State Lehigh Valley welcomed from India two years ago.

"Having international students on campus enhances the learning experience for all our students, both in and out of classroom,” said Denise O’Neill, PSU-LV director of enrollment management. “It’s so incredibly important — broadening all our perspectives when we're exposed to attitudes, beliefs, and values that we might only have encountered through costly travel."

The students — all information systems majors — are attending PSU-LV as part of an international articulation agreement which originated at Penn State York. O’Neill said international students bring vibrancy to campus. “Diversity and inclusion at all levels is so important to the educational environment,” she said. “Whenever we can develop relationships with other schools, it benefits the global institution.”

The students completed two years at Vidyalankar Institute for International Education (VIIE) in Mumbai, then had the opportunity to attend one of four universities in the U.S.  All five chose Penn State because of the school’s IST major and Integration and Application concentration, said one of the students, Suryanarayanan “Surya” Sayee Subramanian. He said his experience at PSU-LV has been great. “It’s a small campus, so we see the same people at the events and get to know more people. The staff are super friendly and helpful.”

This is the first time most of the students have been away from home, so they’re learning basic living and time management skills in addition to their classwork. “We’re getting to know a lot about practical learning and independence,” Subramanian said. “Our parents are very far away so we must do everything ourselves.”

The students are roommates as well, sharing a house in Bethlehem. Subramanian said Melissa Baker in student services was a great resource for securing housing and providing other information about life in the Lehigh Valley.

The group has enjoyed activities like snow tubing at Bear Creek Mountain Resort and sightseeing, including day trips to Gettysburg, Washington, D.C., and trips to University Park for a game and THON weekend. All five students completed summer internships and most are starting to look for full-time employment after graduation.

Another student, Vaishnavi Ajila, said she enjoys being involved in various clubs and organizations on the campus. “I’m a member of THON, Lion Ambassador, Music Club, and Global Student Organization,” Ajila added.

"Living in the U.S. and attending PSU-LV has helped me become a responsible person focused on a goal to achieve,” said another student, Pallari Mujumdar. “The most important thing I learned is to communicate, because communicating with people would solve half of your problems and it is also important to keep yourself updated with the things happening around you,” she said.

Two of the students, Harsh Desai and Subramanian, work for Liz Keptner, director of the multimedia innovation center at PSU-LV.  “They’re wonderful — hardworking, and excellent at troubleshooting,” she said.

During holiday break in January, Keptner took the group out for dinner to an Indian cuisine restaurant in Easton. “The students were explaining some of the dishes to me. I look at their situation…they have traveled thousands of miles and are now immersed in our campus culture. They’re part of our clubs, but they’ve brought their own traditions. They were thrilled to learn we had a Cricket Club on campus. They arranged a viewing party for one of the championship games in the student lounge. It’s nice that they are showing our students in the Lehigh Valley a little piece of home for them,” Keptner said.

Ajila said her time at PSU-LV has taught her important lessons about herself. “I am more capable than what I thought previously about myself. It is difficult to come and study in a completely new country. However, I believe I have done fairly good and adapted to the surroundings quite well.”