International Ambassadors lead the way, elevate success of internationalization efforts on campus

Author: Maria Gabriela Del Rosario Villalaz

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2023 International Ambassadors

Gaby Del Rosario, a senior studying Political Science, is a writer for Notre Dame International, focused on telling the perspective of international students.

At the start of every academic year, a couple of days before campus is buzzing with Welcome Weekend activities, it receives undergraduate and graduate students from all over the world for International Student Orientation led by Notre Dame International’s International Student and Scholar Affairs (ISSA) team. This event seeks to ease the transition to life in the United States, provide information about maintaining immigration status, and help students meet fellow international scholars as well as ISSA staff.

Within all the roles that keep International Orientation running, there is an important group worth highlighting–the International Ambassadors (IAs). This is a select group of undergraduate students, both international and American, who serve as ISSA's student welcome and leadership team. The International Ambassadors serve as a bridge between ISSA and the first-year international students, connecting with the first-years prior to their arrival on campus as a point of contact with the University. They welcome them on campus their first few days, and help carry out programming during International Orientation that encourages relationship building among new students.

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Maria Alexandra (Mariale) Sheppard

Maria Alexandra (Mariale) Sheppard, a current third-year student from Panama, was an International Ambassador during her second year at Notre Dame. She was inspired to apply by her own experience with the International Ambassador she was assigned to as a first-year student. When asked to reflect on this relationship, Sheppard says, “Right away she gave me a big sister vibe. When it was my time to do it, I thought why not pass this feeling on to someone else?” When it comes to their participation in International Student Orientation activities, International Ambassadors get assigned a group of first-year students to lead through the process. During this time, they are a useful resource for both students and parents. They also lead icebreaker activities among the first-year students, facilitating the building of these new relationships that can be so impactful to their college experience.

In preparation for International Student Orientation, International Ambassadors are able to plan for themselves how they want to lead their group. Sheppard took the initiative to look back at her first-year self and ask what she would have wanted to know that could have helped her face the challenges of the first year at a university in a new country. She compiled this advice in a PowerPoint presentation titled “First Days of College 101.” In it, she included advice that went beyond the academic aspects of this transition. She opted for giving her input on the cultural and language barrier, homesickness, and even told her group that it was okay to go eat at the dining hall alone.

“I have always been the kind of person that likes giving advice. I became an International Ambassador because I felt that as a second-year student I had so much to say and had learned so much during freshman year,” Sheppard says.

International first-year students are not only facing the transition from high school to college, but also the transition between their own culture and background and that of the United States, making the process much more difficult. When thinking back to her first year at Notre Dame, Sheppard recalls how international students have fears and anxieties that they learn to navigate through and overcome, and feels like International Ambassadors help make this process easier. The role is extremely rewarding, and Sheppard feels like her experiences and newfound knowledge have given her a duty to apply for the role. Sheppard is studying abroad in Ireland right now, but she concluded the interview eagerly saying that she will be applying to be an International Ambassador again during her senior year.

As an international student myself, I look back three years ago when I first got to this campus and cannot help but be shocked about how much I did not know back then. Even though there is advice that upperclassmen from your dorm or same major can give you, nothing is quite like the advice other international students have. From opening a bank account to getting a new phone plan, international students face unique experiences during this transition to college. As an international student myself, I can safely say no college advice has been as valuable as that of fellow international students. Therein lies the value of the International Ambassadors program–facilitating the bond between a confused first-year student and an eager, experienced one willing to lead the way and be a force for good in the world.

Learn more about the IA program.

Originally published by Maria Gabriela Del Rosario Villalaz at on September 29, 2023.