Building a Thriving Global Community at Western New England University

Western New England University
Southeast Asia
campus life
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By Matt Killorin
Last updated on January 31, 2024

Hear from two founders of the university’s International Student Club.

Western New England University

A group of international students at Western New England University pose for the camera with the school's Golden Bear mascot.

Students from all over the world come to New England, the hub of US-based higher education, to earn their university degrees. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, most campuses shut down. At the height of the pandemic, Ambre and Tram — two founding board members of the International Student Club at Western New England University (WNE) —arrived in Springfield, Massachusetts, to begin their studies as undergrads.

“It was hard at first. Like everything, most international activity had halted with the pandemic,” said Ambre, a senior chemistry major from Belgium. “When things were starting back up, I wanted to create awareness for international students on campus, and so we started the club and worked to bring people back together, international and even domestic students, too.”

Western New England University offered Ambre a scholarship to study chemistry, and she knew the program would help start her journey to medical school. But when she first arrived in Springfield, COVID protocols were still in full effect. Students weren’t yet interacting in person, and Ambre felt dismayed because it wasn’t the college experience she had envisioned. But with some personal initiative and the encouragement of international advisors at WNE, that soon changed. 

“We formed the international club with the help of the International Program office. It allowed me to connect more with friends and classmates and helped with my homesickness,” Ambre said. “We hosted a number of events that drew dozens of students. My favorite was origami day. We had a professor here who was pretty well versed and he would come and teach us different types of origamis — we’re hoping to redo that this year again.”

At WNE, There’s a Club for Everyone (and Everything)  

Western New England hosts more than 200 international students from 30 countries. The university’s International Student Club is just one of more than 70 clubs available to students. Other clubs span a variety of interests and activities, from the arts to spirituality to just having fun.

“Because of COVID, I didn’t have a roommate for my first two years. It could be lonely,” said Tram, a senior business student from Vietnam. “Ambre sent out a university post, and I saw it and immediately knew it was what I had been looking for, so I joined.”  

Tram signed up for the International Student Club and became the group’s treasurer. Together with Ambre and a small group of club office holders, they plan events and hold meetings designed with international students at WNE in mind. 

The clubs and interest groups on campus host several activities and events throughout the year, and WNE also hosts full-university on-campus events, which Tram enjoyed. “I really felt like the school did its best to have events so students would enjoy their time on campus. I know I really loved it,” said Tram.

Business School at WNE Means Innovation 

While originally from Southeast Asia, Tram moved to Massachusetts to live with her aunt and uncle while finishing her junior and senior years of high school. She knew she wanted to study business and was looking for a school that was close — but not too close — to her family. That’s when she discovered WNE. 

“I started to research the top business schools in Massachusetts and I discovered Western New England,” said Tram. “I saw that it’s on the list and that I could get in with my GPA, so I decided to apply.”

Tram is studying business analytics and information management, one of the many majors, minors, dual degrees, and graduate degrees offered through the College of Business at WNE. Business students benefit from one-on-one access to professors and teachers throughout the department.

“Even the freshman-year general lecture classes only have about 30 students,” said Tram. “When you go deeper into your major, there are never more than 15 students. I feel like I can always schedule time with my professors, [and] I can ask them questions without worrying about taking up class time. They always have office hours available to students.”

Additionally, WNE has an innovative two million dollar Fintech Incubator designed to forge connections between global businesses, local entrepreneurs, and students in the business program. Business students can also apply to more than 1,000 internships to advance their career prospects.

Small Classes, Unrivaled Support for STEM Students at WNE

While Tram’s focus on data analytics is different from Ambre’s undergraduate studies in the chemistry department, both students have found their instructors, advisors, and professors easily accessible. 

“My professors were especially helpful, some even reached out to me personally [so] I could contact them,” said Ambre. 

Students in the chemistry department attend courses in the new $40 million state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories within the Center for Sciences and Pharmacy (CSP). And within six months of graduation, more than 98% of WNE chemistry majors in the class of 2022 were employed or attending graduate school.

“After I graduate from WNE, I’m going to go to grad school and then I will probably be going to med school,” said Ambre. “So, [I have] another few years of studying ahead of me for sure! While here at WNE, I’ve had many advisors help me prepare for my next step, but I can’t believe it’s already been four years.”

College Life at WNE

In addition to the numerous student clubs and events on campus at Western New England, students enjoy cheering on the Division III Golden Bears in several sports, including hockey, football, and basketball. There are also many places to hang out and unwind within walking distance of the university. 

“I love a few of the local coffee shops and restaurants,” said Ambre. “It’s more outside the city, in the suburban area — very nice and cozy.”

Beyond the immediate neighborhood around the university, Greater Springfield has a lot to offer college students. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is located right in town, as is MGM Springfield Resorts, which hosts national traveling musicians and entertainers. Six Flags New England is a short drive out of town, and the Berkshire Mountains offer countless outdoor activities, from professional-grade mountain biking courses to yoga and mindfulness retreat centers.

Thriving at WNE 

While Ambre and Tram came to Western New England University during a difficult time to start college, both were able to find community and thrive academically. As seniors who have seen everything from pandemic lockdown to taking that first step toward their futures, they have good advice for incoming international students about to arrive on campus at WNE. 

“At first arrival, I think I was overwhelmed — it was my first time being in the USA, as well. I had a new room. I would have a roommate,” said Ambre. “I was a bit nervous, but also excited because it was a new kind of adventure.”

Tram laughs now, looking back at her first meeting with her first-year advisor, because she initially felt scared. “I don’t know why!” she said. “Eventually, I ended up talking often with my TA, and he answered many questions for me. Academically, I met with business school advisors who helped me schedule my next semester. I also had a financial advisor. Everyone is there to help you. You just have to be yourself.” 

For Ambre, it’s important that students remember why they traveled to a new country to study in the first place. She encourages students to allow themselves to learn something new, befriend people who are different from them, and experience a new side of life. 

“I’ve noticed quite a few international students [who are] here from the same countries tend to stick together in groups,” said Ambre. “Get out of your comfort zone a little and meet with people from different countries or cultures — you can find some cool people that way.”

Tram advises students to be bold, explaining that students in the United States often benefit from connecting with students and professors and advocating for themselves. “I’m kind of an introvert,” said Tram. “But I’m happy I went outside my comfort zone with the club and connected with people.”

Both students felt nervous when they arrived on campus and they reassure incoming students that this feeling is normal, reminding them that many people at school are there to support their transition to college in the United States. 

“I know it can get really scary traveling far from home, so I think everyone who does it should be proud of themselves, honestly,” she said. “But also remember that it is an adventure.”

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