Faces on Campus: Meet James at Gonzaga University

Gonzaga University
campus life
Let us help you find your best fit university!Find your school
By Kate Sitarz
Last updated on February 21, 2024

Gonzaga University international students have a seamless transition to campus thanks to James Vair, student services advisor for Gonzaga Global.

Gonzaga University

James Vair, student services advisor, Gonzaga Global at Gonzaga University, smiles for the camera.

Since Fall 2021, the Gonzaga Global team has been welcoming international students to Spokane, Washington. If you’re headed to Gonzaga, one of the first people you will meet is actually a Gonzaga alum: James Vair, student services advisor for Gonzaga Global, graduated from Gonzaga in 2019. As an alumnus, he can offer students an insider’s perspective on the best ways to connect and engage both with Gonzaga and the off-campus community in Spokane, Washington.

Preparation begins before you even arrive on campus, and often begins with a virtual meeting with James so you know what to expect and who will be there when you arrive.

“We communicate arrival information, bring them to the residence halls, and help them move in,” continues Vair. 

After all, there is perhaps no better feeling than arriving on campus after a long flight and having a friendly – and familiar – face there to greet you, followed by a room with a cozy bed made up and waiting for you.

During orientation, students receive relevant information that is critical to their success, including communicating academic integrity expectations and ensuring they know the opportunities available through Career Services.

The Gonzaga Global team also bring students to the local supermarket so students feel comfortable navigating the oversized American grocery stores, as well as teach students how they can open a bank account.

“I also try to create small moments of individual connection,” says Vair. “I try to learn names and faces in the first week. If I know a student’s name, and that student knows that I know their name, then they feel comfortable coming to me with any issues they have.”

Trust and comfort are key to creating a seamless transition to a new culture, city, and campus.

What You Can Expect from Gonzaga Global

Vair is the first point of contact, and connects with students via WhatsApp or any number of preferred communication methods to answer their questions. Gonzaga Global students also receive a weekly email with upcoming events, such as Tuesday Tea Time where students can get a cup of tea and check in with Vair.

“The most rewarding moments are when I am sitting in my office and students come in, flop down on the chairs, and say ‘wán,’ which means play, have fun,” he says. “I love that students feel comfortable enough to tell me about their day.” He also hosts more structured conversations on Fridays.

A fluent Mandarin speaker, James is also TESOL-certified. Prior to graduation, he worked in Residence Life and the Center of Global Engagement at Gonzaga. 

Whether it is figuring out driver’s licenses or how to change dorms, Vair helps students with any challenges that arise from being in a new place. He also plans events for students to get familiar with American and Gonzaga culture, like learning about Halloween and how Americans celebrate the day. In Fall 2021, for example, a Gonzaga Global group went to a local farm for pumpkin picking and to enjoy huckleberry doughnuts.

“It is about creating a feeling of belonging and connectedness to the Gonzaga community and the great Spokane community,” Vair explains.

Part of that includes introducing students to Gonzaga traditions. “We are big in basketball,” James says, referring to Gonzaga’s top-ranked men’s team. He explains to international students that the school’s mascot is a bulldog and the stadium is referred to as the kennel. 

Every year, there is a rally to get students pumped up and excited to kick off the season. Vair has made it a point to teach first-year students how to cheer for Gonzaga.

“The whole building shakes with students jumping and doing cheers,” he says. 

Beyond the entertaining aspects of life on campus, the Gonzaga Global team also supports students during more challenging times. If a student is struggling, whether with academics, culture shock, mental and/or physical health concerns, support resources are available. No matter the issue, international students can be assured that Gonzaga Global will provide what’s needed to be successful.

No detail is too small – and change can take effect quickly. For instance, when a former Gonzaga Global staffer noticed that students could not find any rice options among the dishes in the dining hall during orientation, they casually mentioned the omission to the director of dining services operations. The next day, rice options were available.

Vair shares a phrase that captures this: “Zags help Zags.” It covers what happens on campus on a daily basis. “Gonzaga students always hold the door for each other, so sometimes there are long pauses when [you are] 20 steps away and someone is still holding the door for you.” 

It is not surprising when one of the school’s guiding themes is “cura personalis,” which is Latin for care of the whole person. 

“My best advice to students is to come in with an open mind, to be flexible and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible,” Vair says. 

Discover Gonzaga Global