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International Students Receive Warm Welcome via UVaExpress

August 19, 2010 — Wahoos from Africa, Asia and Europe were the first to arrive on Grounds this week courtesy of the University of Virginia's unique shuttle service, UVaExpress, which transports international students from Dulles International Airport to the University in time for fall classes.

Tuesday and Wednesday, 12 buses commuted from Charlottesville to Dulles and back, meeting planes as they arrived from points around the globe. They brought more than 150 students, family members and a visiting faculty member to the University.

"The program is such an amazing experience," said Darci Spuck, assistant director of regional engagement for international alumni, parents and friends. "Incoming students who rode the UVaExpress in previous years return to volunteer in the years following, saying they want to give back in the way the volunteers gave to them by welcoming the new students into the University family."

The incoming international students total 239, the largest number in the history of the University. Students hail from such places as China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Trinidad and Tobago, Korea, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Turkey and many South and Central America countries.

Passengers on UVaExpress can take advantage of the 85-mile ride from Dulles to Charlottesville to get acquainted with one another. Some had even more time than that. Nineteen-year-old Shuang Shuang said she and a group of students from China flew on the same plane to Dulles, travelling nearly 7,000 miles together. "We took the long way here, stopping in Qatar. We were on the plane forever!"

UVaExpress, now in its fourth year, transported people from more than 20 countries to Grounds with the help of dozens of volunteers. Students say it is a wonderful way to begin college life so far away from family and home. "In the U.K., when you get an acceptance letter to a university, you never hear from them again," said Colette Martin, who is a Jefferson Scholar. "The University of Virginia has been fantastic. The contact with students is absolutely amazing."

Kang Kang of Chengdu, China, has wasted no time since arriving to the United States. She's already made some great friends and visited Washington, D.C. "The Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial – it is so beautiful!" The Echols Scholar plans to study economics. She's already an expert in Olympic history, having beaten out more than 20,000 other entries to carry the Olympic torch in her city. "We had to compete with each other and answer questions about the Olympics," the 18-year-old said with a grin.

Gordon Kirtland, an alumnus of both the College of Arts & Sciences and Darden School of Business, and the former president of the UVaClub of Singapore, came up with the idea for UVaExpress. "I kept hearing stories about the difficulty new students had in getting to Charlottesville," said the UVaClub of Singapore president. "It just seemed like a sad way to start a college career, particularly in a new and unfamiliar country."

He said continuing to attract international students to the University is essential, and UVaExpress is one way to do that. "International students are absolutely vital to sustaining U.Va. as a first-rate university. Over the long run, international students are critical to the economic success of the state of Virginia," Kirtland said.

— By Jane Kelly

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