A Truly Global Community

Hilary Bentman, Associate Director of Communications
International Student Tsatsral Sugar sits on the second floor of the University Center; behind her are Widener flags hanging from the ceiling
Freshman Tsatsral Sugar is the first Widener student from Mongolia.

Tsatsral Sugar couldn’t be farther from home. 

It took her three flights to traverse the more than 6,000 miles from her home country. She arrived at Widener by herself, a few suitcases in hand, just before the start of fall semester.

“I thought, ‘what have I done?’ It was so different,” she said. “But going abroad is everyone’s dream."

And it was Tsatsral’s dream, one she first mapped out growing up in Mongolia, a country sandwiched between Russia and China. 

A first-year psychology major, Tsatsral is Widener’s first student from Mongolia. And despite the many cultural differences she’s encountered, Tsatsral has found her place on campus. 

“The Center for Civic and Global Engagement welcomed me here. People on campus are really kind and friendly,” she said.

Tsatsral’s enrollment at Widener represents somewhat of a return to more normal operations in the world of international and exchange education since the COVID pandemic. Widener has seen a huge increase in interest and applications from prospective international students and has welcomed students from countries never before represented on campus.

In addition to Tsatsral making history as the first Mongolian student – which she says “makes me so appreciative; it’s pretty great” – Widener welcomed its first undergraduate student from Iran and its first from Uzbekistan. 

Other students on campus this year hail from Ecuador, Jamaica, Cameroon, Scotland, Germany, and Kenya, plus exchange students from Widener’s partner institutions in Germany and the Netherlands.

International student Shahinakhon Bahodirova poses in the University Center Atrium
Shahinakhon Bahodirova is the first Widener student from Uzbekistan

“There’s been some really interesting countries,” said Ken Dunbar, director of international admissions, who notes several factors at work. 

One, the political atmosphere in the United States is more friendly to international students now than in the past. Additionally, while COVID limited travel over the last couple of years, it opened the door for more virtual international recruiting.

“We have the ability to outreach to the whole world. We’re able to get the message out there more,” said Dunbar, who participated in a Central Asia virtual recruiting fair, which has helped put Widener on the map in places as far away as Mongolia and Uzbekistan. “We’ve tried actively to diversify our recruitment.”

Widener is also a participant in the #YouAreWelcomeHere scholarship program, which sends a powerful message to prospective international applicants about the community’s commitment to belonging. 

But if COVID benefitted recruitment, it’s still wreaking havoc on the ability of international students to actually arrive in the United States. The pandemic created massive backlogs for visas in students’ home countries. While their American and Widener paperwork may be in place, students are having difficulty getting the necessary documents from their home embassies and consulates, forcing them to defer their enrollment.

Visa woes prevented Shahinakhon Bahodirova of Uzbekistan from starting at Widener in the fall. Luckily, the first-year student was able to get the paperwork in place to begin classes in the spring semester.

Like Tsatsral, Bahodirova dreamed of studying in the United States and heard about Widener through an online recruiting event. A computer science major and political science minor, she’s an aspiring lawyer and was drawn to Widener’s reputation, location, and the fact that the university has two law schools.

International student Saleeth Ulloa Lasso in the library
First-year student Saleeth Ulloa Lasso hails from Ecuador

“I heard about Widener and saw the pictures of campus. I did my research. It was the best option for me,” said Bahodirova. “And Ken Dunbar encouraged me, made me feel comfortable. He was approachable and talked about how friendly the community was. I really wanted a peaceful place where I could study and be supported by both other students and the university.”

Only a few weeks into her Widener experience, Bahodirova has found great support from her professors and a community where “you can feel like yourself.”

Ecuadorian native Saleeth Ulloa Lasso ’26 has jumped right into Widener life.

“We’re a community here and I like to know that we all have a place here. They really encourage our own thinking, to innovate and grow as a person. The people I’ve met are amazing,” said the international relations and French major. 

Ulloa Lasso has found caring and supportive professors, a residential assistant who has helped her navigate the campus living experience, and friends who are open to learning about her culture. In turn, she’s learning more about American culture, including adopting some colloquialisms like “see ya” and “have a good one.”

Ulloa Lasso has gotten involved in several campus organizations, including Pride Activities Council (PAC) and Latinos Unidos, and plans to be a C.R.E.W. orientation leader next to year to help welcome first-year students.

Junior exchange student Daniël van der Spoel was supposed to return to his home university, Windesheim University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, at the end of fall semester.

International exchange student Daniël van der Spoel ice skates on a pond in the Netherlands
International exchange student Daniël van der Spoel is from the Netherlands

But the computer science major enjoyed his Widener experience – both academically and socially – so much that he petitioned Windesheim, a Widener partner institution, to let him stay for spring semester. He is believed to be the first Widener exchange student to extend his time on campus beyond the originally agreed upon duration.

“Everyone’s been so welcoming and wants to help,” said van der Spoel. “Campus life, it’s amazing. I’m a lot more involved than in the Netherlands, where I only met people from my major.”

At Widener, van der Spoel has met students from across the academic disciplines. He’s been involved in PAC and computer science events and has gotten a taste of American football at Pride games. 

And he has found his professors to be highly experienced in their fields and supportive of their students.

For the Thanksgiving holiday, when most domestic students were heading home, a professor invited van der Spoel to join his family dinner.

“I’ve felt really at home here,” he said.

Learn more about international admissions

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