August 2, 2011 — The University of Virginia is preparing to put out the welcome mat for its incoming international students with its unique bus service, UVaExpress, which shuttles first-time Wahoos from area airports to Grounds.
Buses roll to Dulles International and Charlottesville Albemarle airports on Aug. 15 and 16 to pick up students arriving from such places as Bangladesh, Brazil, China, France, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.
The only program of its kind in Virginia, the free service, now in its fifth year, is one way the University strives to make it easier for first-year and transfer students to acclimate to life in the United States and at the University. Friendly volunteers greet weary travelers at the airport and show them to University buses waiting to bring them to Alumni Hall. Time spent on the bus is used to get to know new classmates. On arrival at the hospitality center, more volunteers greet students and help them get settled. More than 100 people volunteer for UVaExpress.
UVaExpress has grown each year since it began in 2007. Last year, 180 students and parents used the program, said Darci Spuck, assistant director for regional engagement overseas.
The program is administered by the University's Office of Engagement and underwritten by Gordon Kirtland, UVaClub of Singapore president and UVaFamilies board member, who in 2006 brought to the University's attention the difficulty and expense of transportation for arriving international students. Kirtland graduated in 1977 from the College of Arts & Sciences and in 1981 from the Darden School of Business.
"I know we are making a meaningful impact on the start of these students' time at U.Va," Spuck said. "I spoke with a family over Skype yesterday from outside of the U.S. I could hear the relief in the parents' voices that their daughter would be greeted at Dulles. It set them at ease knowing she would not be alone in the U.S. for the first time."
On her registration form, Rachel Lonergan of Dublin, Ireland, noted her appreciation of the program. "It's such a relief knowing that you will not be alone on arrival at the airport and I look forward to meeting everybody. Thanks a mill ..."
Once on Grounds, the University offers several opportunities to help students get to know one another, as well as faculty, staff and administrators. On Aug. 17, a popular welcome dinner for students and parents will be held in Alumni Hall; last year's drew more than 400 people. And for the first time, U.Va. is offering a "shopping bus" that will ferry students to area stores to help them outfit their rooms and purchase school supplies. In addition, students will be taken to an area store to obtain cell phones. Also scheduled: a parent Q&A session, a walking tour of the Downtown Mall and other areas, a dinner for international parents and guests, and orientations for international first-year and exchange students.