‘A sense of belonging’: Global Ties welcomes international students to campus


Image via Pitt Global Ties

Pitt Global Ties mentors at first-year convocation in August.

By Patrick Swain, Staff Writer

Amy Qi, a senior psychology and anthropology major, said she felt like an outsider when she arrived from China to attend Pitt in 2019. She now works as a lead Global Ties mentor to help international students like her feel at home.

“I was thinking that this U.S. college life has nothing to do with me, that I’m just here to study, to take classes. I wasn’t in the mindset to socialize,” Qi said. “After I become a mentor, I can see students from different cultural backgrounds have similar struggles. I realized people are not that different. Through Global Ties, I become more open-minded to all those things.”

Global Ties, a program within Pitt’s Office of Cross Cultural and Leadership Development, is dedicated to welcoming international students to the Pitt community. Led by a team of student mentors, Global Ties hosts events to help international students make friends, learn American traditions, explore Pittsburgh and acclimate to life in the United States. 

This fall is the first fully in-person semester for Global Ties since spring 2020. Karen Wang, a lead Global Ties mentor and senior nursing major, said they have gradually phased in physical events after COVID-19 curbed their regular programming.

“We’re slowly bringing back events, so those more logistically difficult and further away we haven’t gotten the chance this year to do,” Wang said.

The mentors hosted a fall social last Friday, inviting international students to mingle over ice cream and board games. Throughout the year, participants will have the chance to sleep under the stars on a camping trip, dance at a masquerade and take part in American festivities on Halloween and Thanksgiving. In the past, Global Ties has led getaways to Amish country, high tea at the Frick Mansion, football crash courses and trips to Washington, D.C.

Qi said Global Ties provides valuable services for students and helps build a culturally rich student body at Pitt.

“One of the most important goals for Global Ties is to provide this bridge or platform for international students to meet other international students… and to feel a sense of belonging here at Pitt,” Qi said. “Another side is to educate and promote this cross-cultural awareness… to make Pitt more inclusive and more diverse.”

While the majority of international students in Global Ties come from China, Qi and 18 other mentors also serve students coming to Pitt from South Korea, France, India, Germany, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and a handful of other countries across the globe this semester. 

Maya Connors, a sophomore mechanical engineering major who works as a Global Ties mentor, said they create a close-knit community despite international students’ differing national origins. 

“By giving them a mentor, it makes them more comfortable… with the premise of being at Pitt,” Connors said. “We offer these social events where they can meet other people from different backgrounds and begin forming social circles there, or just get the confidence to form social circles outside of there and know that they have someone behind them.”

During the years that Global Ties existed solely online, the mentors had to get creative with their activities to continue making an impact on new international students. Wang said they searched for common ground among the students to bridge divides.

“People from similar areas in the world, they could come to these Zoom sessions, or similar majors,” Wang said. “We tried to find commonalities that might generate some type of discussion and connection that way online, but of course that’s not nearly going to be the same as in-person connecting.”

Though the activities were restricted to Zoom, the mentors were still able to create a sense of community, Qi said.

“During our events, we would usually use a lot of breakout rooms [to] create a smaller setting for people to actually meet people in the Zoom world,” Qi said. “We shuffled those breakout rooms a lot, and made games you can play like Jeopardy and trivia … Most of the events that we had on Zoom was limited, but we definitely tried our best to keep students engaged.”

Maria Stella de Carvalho, a junior political science major, is a Global Ties mentor and an international student from Brazil. She recalled her first year at Pitt during the COVID-19 pandemic, and said Global Ties helped her feel less alone.

“It’s a very unique experience. When you’re coming from abroad, it can be very hard for you to transition into a new country,” de Carvalho said. “Everyone was on Zoom, and you don’t really know what you’re doing 一 you’re a freshman in college 一 and I had to meet all these people from different countries, but… I realized it’s not only about meeting other people, it’s me knowing there’s other people like me here.”

Adjusting to physical events after years of virtual programs was a challenge, but the return to in-person activities has rejuvenated Global Ties, de Carvalho said. 

“We had an international orientation with 300 kids, and taking that out of the screen and into real life was very nice 一 these are not just emails we send and programs we make them sign up to, they’re actual people,” de Carvalho said. “It’s harder because we’re having to adapt… but it’s also very gratifying.”