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Celebrating WVU Tech’s global family

The international student wall in the WVU Tech Admissions House

WVU Tech students come from all walks of life. The student body represents nearly every county in West Virginia. They represent 30 states and come from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii.

They also represent more than 20 countries, and the University’s international student population is proud of the rich diversity they bring and experience at Tech.

Admissions counselor Jeretta Ford works with international students at Tech. She helps them from the beginning of the application process all the way through graduation and beyond.

She’s worked with so many students that there’s a map of the entire world painted on a wall in her office dedicated to them.

“The wall is a way of preserving the time that an international student has spent with us and marking the countries that these students have traveled from to be with us,” she said. 

“It’s a great way to make a visitor aware of this part of our University. It’s also a great way to make the students who sign it feel a little less isolated and feel more like they have a place here.”

Ford said that WVU Tech’s international student population is a unique and integral part of the Golden Bear family.

“All of our students are exposed to cultures that they might not be exposed to anywhere else. This can open up a person to different traditions, different thinking, different everything and make them more comfortable with those differences,” she said. 

It’s that kind of cultural exploration that drives many initiatives on campus. For example, October 9-13 is Diversity Week , and for students like senior mechanical engineering major Geoffroy Gauneau, who came to WVU Tech from France, celebrating WVU Tech’s global diversity is an important part of the experience.

He’s the president of the WVU Tech International Student Organization, which hosts events on campus to engage international and domestic students alike in cultural exchange.

“We like to think of ISO as a place where international students can feel at home and also share and learn about each other's culture,” he said.  

He said that getting students to examine the uniqueness that geographical and cultural distance creates is a way to bring students closer together.

“I believe it is important for students to evolve in an environment with a wide range of diversity because it opens our minds. It shows us that not everything works the same everywhere and that we can always learn from others,” he said.

As the WVU Tech community celebrates its global diversity, we’ll meet five Golden Bears from around the globe who also call Beckley home.

WVU Tech student Andreas Jonsson

Andreas Jönsson

Freshman psychology major from Solna, Sweden

Andreas loves basketball. He loves basketball so much, in fact, that he traveled 4,300 miles to Beckley to play for the Golden Bears.

“Basketball brought me here,” he said. “My goal is to be able to make my living playing basketball professionally. To be able to do something you love every day as a profession would be a dream come true.”

As a psychology major, he’s also got a keen interest in human behavior and how the human mind works.

“I would say that it was a natural choice to keep going in the same field of study since I had been studying a lot of behavioral sciences at my high school in Sweden,” he said.

For Andreas, coming to the United States was a good experience, although he said he misses the food and the cooler climate.

“It's a lot of mixed feelings. On one hand I am excited to start something new and begin a new chapter in my life, but on the other, it's hard to leave your home behind even if it's just for nine months,” he said.

Even so, he’s had a lot of help.

“It feels like I am getting used to how everything works around here. Tech does a lot of things to support international students. For example, they do an international orientation the day before the regular orientation so that we can get settled in properly and get to know the campus before the rest of the students get here. They also have tremendous faculty that make us feel right at home and taken care of,” he said.

On diversity at WVU Tech, Andreas appreciates the experience of meeting people with different views.

“Everyone has their own experiences and values which influence the way they see things. If everyone is from the same culture, people could assume that their way is the only way, when there are in fact tons of different ways to look at things,” he said.

WVU Tech student Mildra Beyene

Mildra Getachew Beyene 

Junior civil engineering major from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Mildra grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital and the country’s largest city with more than three million people. Now she’s in Beckley with just a relative handful of neighbors at a population of around 17,000.

She said she’s enjoying her experience at Tech and the newfound independence she’s gained in the transition.

“Honestly, it’s the hardest thing that I have done so far. It’s hard to be exposed to a new world all by yourself,” she said.

“In our culture, we are attached to our parents. After I came here, it was hard for me to do things by myself without the consent from my parents. But I’m glad I experienced this because it helped me to get stronger,” she said.

Back home, Mildra gained an appreciation for engineering and architecture, so she’s learning everything she can about the field. She plans to use her talents to create and improve places where people spend most of their lives. After Tech, she plans to earn a master’s in structural engineering.

“I am interested in designing houses and I like to help people in need. I would love to design unique buildings and I would love to take architecture classes some time in life,” she said.

The homesickness is understandably tough. She said she misses gatherings and meals with her family and friends at home. As a student at Tech and a resident assistant in University Hall, however, she finds a sense of family in the new friends she’s made along the way.

“I’m glad to be part of the Golden Bears and I would like to thank everyone who’s trying to support the international students on campus,” she said.

“We live in a diverse world and it is good to know how other cultures deal with different situations. We never know where life takes us. We might one day end up in the other part of the continent and have to deal with a different culture. So learning in this kind of diverse college is a free gift. We get to know the culture of different countries and, when that day comes, we will be able to handle it in the right way.”

WVU Tech student Abdullah AlMezyad

Abdullah AlMezyad

Senior chemical engineering major from Surra, Kuwait

Abdullah came to WVU Tech at the age of 17 with a plan in place. As a chemical engineer, he’s going to make waves in the petrochemical field.

“Being a process engineer would be my dream job. I’ve been exposed to multiple fields and that’s what I’m most interested in. I like the idea of finding ways to improve the plant and improve efficiency. There’s a lot of problem-solving and innovation involved,” he said.

After graduation, he plans to pair the chemical engineering degree with an MBA.

“I want to work in the petrochemical and oil industry for maybe 10 to 15 years in production and then onto management, so that’s where an MBA would come in” he said.

Now in his last year at Tech, he’s well on the way to making it happen. This summer, he traveled back to Kuwait to participate in an internship with the Equate petrochemical company.

“I interned in the technology improvement department and spent that time learning what process and production engineers do. It was a good experience,” he said.

In Beckley, Abdullah is active on campus. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Abdullah said that the culture back home is very tight-knit, so he’s glad to have chosen a smaller college. 

“I like the new campus. It’s good for the students and for the future of the school,” he said. “It’s a small school and everyone knows each other, and that’s really good. If you miss class, the professor will ask about you.”

He’s also glad for the opportunity to share in a vast range of culture experiences on campus as he shares his own story.

“I go to talk to different people about my culture, my language, my ethnicity and background. And in that process I get to experience cultures from different parts of the world. I have friends now from all over the world,” he said.

WVU Tech student Nina Patelli

Konstantina Pateli

Sophomore biology major from Athens, Greece

Konstantina – or “Nina” to her friends and family – came to WVU Tech from Athens, one of the oldest cities on the planet.

As a volleyball player and biology major, she has an interest in how humans function and how to fix them when they don’t.

“I chose biology because I love learning about how everything works and, more specifically, about the human body. My dream job would be a doctor or a physiotherapist, because I love working with athletes and after all these years as an athlete, I understand some things,” she said.

Earning her degree in the United States has been a bit of an adjustment.  

“The first semester here was a little bit difficult. I had to think of everything first in Greek to understand it in English, but after a while I got used to it,” she said.

“And everything is fast food,” she joked.

The distance can be tough, but technology has been a big help. She chats with her friends, her family and her dogs on FaceTime every day.

“Nobody can replace family,” she said. 

That doesn’t mean she hasn’t found a family in Beckley, though. She’s active on campus and has been enjoying her experience meeting so many new people from so many backgrounds.

“I really enjoy my time here, people are very friendly and I made a lot of friends,” she said. “Sometimes I feel Like Tech has more international students than Americans. You walk all over campus and you listen to so many different Languages, and Tech helps us even more by organizing events for international students. It's always hard to be away from home, so support is very important to everyone.”

Graduation is a few years away, but then Nina says she’ll find herself at a fork in the road.

“I am really between two options,” she said. “I will either stay in the U.S. to get my master's degree or I will go back to Europe to combine a master's degree with playing professional volleyball.”

WVU Tech student Saul Montealegre.

Saul Fernando Montealegre Diaz

Senior athletic coaching education major from Bogotá, Colombia

After high school, Saul traveled from Bogotá, the sprawling capital of Colombia with more than eight million people to Georgia, then to White Bear Lake, Minnesota. He spent a few semesters there at Century College before transferring to WVU Tech.

Saul developed a love for soccer back home. That love has driven his career choices and it encourages him to push himself daily.

“Trying to become the best is my passion,” he said. “It’s the sport that I have played since I was a little boy.”

He’s studying athletic coaching management at Tech and minoring in sport management. The hope? To work with a professional team.

“I will try to get my master’s or stay a little longer in the EEUU [“Estados Unidos,” or the United States] studying and doing certification courses,” he said.

Then it’s on to head coach or physical trainer for a professional soccer team. 

Saul’s experience on campus means he’s built for that kind of job.

As a player, he helped lead Century to three regional and district championships and a bid in the 2013 NJCAA National Tournament. At Tech, he led the team to the NAIA National Tournament in 2015. In 2016, he was named to the All-RSC Men’s Soccer First Team in the River States Conference and earned accolades as Golden Bear Athlete of the Week and RSC Defensive Player of the Week.

These days, he’s an assistant coach and he coaches the club team. For his work with the soccer program at Tech, he’s been nominated as a SHAPE America Major of the Year.

He’s also a resident assistant and student worker in the Bears Den. In that capacity he spends his days helping others. He said his experience at Tech and in the country has been incredible.

“Very interesting,” he said. “It helped me to grow as a man, athlete and person.”

Home isn’t far from his mind, though.

“Most of the time you miss a lot of things from back home. The people, the food, the culture. Almost everything,” he said.

He said that he’s found a home here, too, among people from all over the globe.

“This makes the experience of leaving home easier because you meet a lot of people that are in your situation, but from other countries,” he said.

“You meet a lot of people that are interested about you and your culture, so it is always fun to talk about you and your country. It makes them understand people better and builds an open mindset where the experience of the other will help them grow as a person and student.”