Iraqi refugee helps international students find their place on campus

November 16, 2021

Headshot of Raya Al Wasti

Traveling to the United States for opportunity can be nothing short of daunting. Raya Al Wasti, II, administrative assistant to the Department of Cultural and Global Engagement, understands the complexities of acclimating to American culture.

Al Wasti, an Iraqi refugee, arrived in America on November 16 in 2011. Her brother served at the American Embassy in Bagdad, granting his family the opportunity to apply to the refugee program. Her war-torn homeland was dangerous territory and Al Wasti decided to start over in the U.S. at the age of 28.

“When I arrived, I felt like I was starting from nothing. I was the first of my family to relocate, and my first six months here were very hard. Without friends or family, it was tough to adjust to the new environment,” said Al Wasti.

She cites gaining a social security number, job applications, transportation and food shopping as novel hurdles.

Shortly after she came to Connecticut, Al Wasti connected with non-profit Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS). Fluent in Arabic and English, she worked with IRIS to help refugee families settle into their new homes. Al Wasti would act as a translator for various institutions, helping clients to set up school appointments and more.

“At IRIS, I was able to connect with more people and form relationships,” said Al Wasti.

IRIS coworkers soon encouraged Al Wasti to apply to Quinnipiac University. Before coming stateside, she was an executive office manager for a large telecommunications company. The international student affairs department offered Al Wasti the opportunity to combine her skillset with her personal experience.

“I wanted the job because I was confident I could serve people, as I could understand why it’s so important to accept people. I learned about accepting diversity through war, about how to be different and respect others,” said Al Wasti.

Now as an administrative assistant to the multicultural & global education department, Al Wasti helps international students adjust to their new environment.

“Though it is a different experience as a refugee, I know firsthand what it feels like to come from a completely different culture,” she said.

Al Wasti helps international students feel more at home by helping to identify campus organizations that would interest them.

“By participating, students not only feel more included, but it gives them a chance to understand the culture more,” said Al Wasti.

While many international students are fulfilling their greatest ambition by studying at an American university, the road to graduation isn’t necessarily paved with self-assurance.

“After they arrive, most international students struggle to engage with the school. It’s interesting to see how they are when they first come and their confidence in their final years,” said Al Wasti. “I’m proud of our service and how we help and encourage them to reach success.”

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