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Madison becomes second hometown for international students

July 10, 2023 By Xinlin Jiang
Aerial view of Madison isthmus

International students find that Madison has a lot to offer, and attending events and joining clubs helps them get involved. Photo: Bryce Richter

(Editor’s note: Xinlin (Grace) Jiang is a senior majoring in journalism and mass communication from Chengdu, China.)

On a late August day in 2021, I stepped out of the Madison airport with three suitcases and a heavily packed backpack, having traveled 15 hours by plane from Chengdu, China.

Sitting in an Uber, I gazed out of the window at the picturesque countryside, filled with curiosity about the future. The Uber driver asked if I was here to attend university. Yes, I said.

With a hearty laugh, the driver turned his gaze towards the road ahead and said, “Welcome to Madison. Believe me, you’ll fall in love with this place!”

International students have been a part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison since 1849. Every year, more than 6,000 students from more than 112 countries venture across oceans and/or lands to join the vibrant campus community. They leave their families behind, seeking knowledge, personal growth and a sense of belonging in this new home away from home.

They come to view Madison as their second home.

As the mission statement of UW–Madison’s Division of Diversity, Equity & Educational Achievement, in part, reads: “The University of Wisconsin–Madison fulfills its public mission by creating a welcoming and inclusive community for people from every background — people who as students, faculty and staff serve Wisconsin and the world.”

Before their arrival, international students extensively research foreign universities, carefully weighing pros and cons. While they consider university rankings from reputable institutions, they also often seek insights from alumni through online social platforms when making their decisions. Through generations of international Badgers, UW–Madison has built a strong reputation across the globe.

In June of this year, I came across a post on Red, one of China’s largest online social platforms, titled “UW-Madison Really Touched Me.”

The author of the post, Ruohan Yuan, shared her experiences of applying to and receiving an offer from the university.

“I had no idea about UW–Madison at first,” Yuan said. “But after seeking advice online and receiving help from many UW–Madison alumni, their deep love for their alma mater and their assistance touched me. Gradually, I developed a fondness for this ‘distinctive’ university.”

Like Yuan, when I had just received my offer letter from UW–Madison I felt a mix of excitement and fear. Prior to that moment, I had never heard of Madison, and I was anxious about starting a new journey in an unfamiliar city all by myself. Fortunately, I soon realized I wasn’t alone.

Through online connections, I met Chloe Peng, a sophomore at the time, who helped me with finding accommodation and took me to explore the Farmer’s Market, guiding me in getting to know and integrate into Madison.

A woman stands by a lake.

Chloe Peng’s graduation photo, taken by Lake Mendota. Photo courtesy of Chloe Peng

A woman sits at a table loaded with food.

Chloe Peng enjoys a hot pot meal in Chengdu. Photo courtesy of Chloe Peng

Peng, originally from Chengdu, China, is a senior graduating from the Wisconsin School of Business this year. She has decided to pursue her graduate studies in Madison as well.

“If I graduate from my master’s program next year and leave Madison, I can’t imagine how sad I will be,” she said. “The three words I would use to describe my experience at UW–Madison are open-minded, inclusive and non-judgmental.”

Peng initially enrolled in marketing but later switched to finance. It wasn’t until she took an accounting class that she found her true passion.

“I thought changing majors would be very difficult, but it turned out all I needed to do was fill out a transfer form. I felt that my ideas were greatly respected and supported by the university,” Peng said.

A photo of a woman standing on the sidewalk.

Camille Liu takes a selfie on a street in Peru. Photo courtesy of Camille Liu

Photo of several people in the stands at a football stadium, on a sunny day.

Camille Liu attends a game at Camp Randall Stadium with friends. Photo courtesy of Camille Liu

Camille Liu, vice president of the Wisconsin International Student Association (WISA), hails from Peru. Liu also faced the challenges of being far from home and alone in a completely new city.

She discovered that international students can integrate better into Madison’s culture by joining clubs or organizations like WISA. “I feel a sense of belonging when I’m in WISA. I’ve met people there who feel like my family in Wisconsin,” Liu said.

Attending campus or local events is another way to soak up the culture in Madison, particularly sports events like football games.

“I love how everyone says ‘On, Wisconsin,’ and people dress up all in red or all in white, creating a sense of togetherness like a family walking down the street,” Liu said.

Eduardo Martinez Villegas, an international student from Mexico, said that coming to a foreign city inevitably involves spending a lot of time alone. However, he has learned to embrace solitude and enjoy his own company throughout this process.

UW–Madison provided numerous opportunities to Villegas, including helping him find a job during his first semester.

A man stands in front a pool, with mountains in the background.

Eduardo Martinez Villegas is shown in Nuevo León, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Eduardo Martinez Villegas

A man smiles for the camera with the Capitol building in the background.

Eduardo Martinez Villegas in Madison. Photo courtesy of Eduardo Martinez Villegas

“I always receive emails about job opportunities from my counselor. That’s something great about the culture here,” Villegas said. “When I was in Mexico, I never experienced anything like that. Never. So for me, it’s like finding gold. It’s much easier for me to seize the opportunity.”

In the near future, Madison will welcome an influx of students from around the world, each arriving with a curious and adventurous spirit.

So what awaits them in this vibrant city?

Imagine the awe-inspiring moments of witnessing breathtaking sunsets over the serene Lake Mendota. Envision yourself leisurely basking in the warm sun on the inviting lawns of Bascom Hall. Feel the exhilaration as you immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of the College Library, diligently working to meet deadlines.

Prepare to be captivated by the unexpected wonders that Madison has to offer, from the enchanting displays of aurora borealis to the delicate beauty of April snowflakes. And don’t forget the irresistible allure of Daily Scoop ice cream, available year-round, beckoning you to indulge in its flavors.

But Madison is not just about its natural wonders and delightful treats. It’s a place where new friendships are forged, where exciting life journeys begin and where you’ll undergo a transformative period of independence. Embrace every challenge and surprise that comes your way, for they are stepping stones on the incredible path of personal growth and self-discovery.

So, to all the international students who are soon to arrive in Madison, get ready for a remarkable adventure. Embrace the unknown, savor the experiences and let this captivating city weave its spell on you.