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Omobonike Odegbami.
Communications Office student writer Melissa Kaleka ’24 recently sat down with Omobonike Odegbami, Hamilton’s inaugural director of International Student Services (ISS). In the new position, Odegbami will support international students before, during, and after their transition from their home countries to campus.

This includes assisting with Visa applications, obtaining a New York State ID, traveling and reentering the U.S., and planning their paths after graduation. In addition, Odegbami will expand resources that connect students with the local community. This includes the International Friendship Program, which matches students with members of the Clinton community in order to build cultural connections and lasting friendships. 

What were your goals when coming to campus?

My goal coming in was to get to know [international students] better because what I consider a sense of belonging could be very different from each student I come across. I don’t want to come in with preset goals or preset ideas. I want the chance to meet these students first [and] get to know them. And by interacting with the students, I’ll have a better idea of their definition of a sense of belonging.

What surprised you when you began work at Hamilton?

The level of student service support that students have here at Hamilton. Not just the international students, but most students in general. The idea that they have faculty advisors coming in was surprising to me. The type of support services from … the Counseling Center [and] Health Center was very surprising. I’ve had 20 years of community college experience. We did have student services but not up to the level that a student at Hamilton has.

What words of advice do you have for international students at Hamilton?

I’ll preach to the choir because they do this already. Persist, in spite of it all. I say that because the immigration regulations in this country are not friendly to international students, and if you look back at the past couple of years, the previous [U.S.] administration had implemented policies that were not friendly … and international students tend to get discouraged when there are outside forces going against what they’re here for. While we changed administrations, immigration regulations are constantly changing. It may be friendly now, [but] it may change tomorrow; it’s a constant change. In spite of it all, remember why you are in this country and persist.

Who do you look to for inspiration?

I have a few mentors. I believe I take a little from each person. I had a mentor from my undergrad who inspired me with his work ethic, his dedication, [and] his commitment to his work, which is something I admired and wanted to be like. As I grew older, I came across other mentors. One, in particular, believed in people. His idea at that time was that every student could learn. Every student is teachable. So, there’s no such thing as “The student cannot make it,” even when the playing field isn’t level. To have enough faith in students … I really admired that. More recently is a great family friend; I admire Robin’s tenacity. I admire people that, in spite of it all, still put their best foot forward, don’t make excuses, consider failure … as a lesson, a stepping stone. Her persistence is something that I think I’d like to continue to emulate. 

What have you learned about the international community here so far?

That they’re driven. They are determined. It’s almost like they are on a mission. They came here to go to school and to excel at school, and they take their studies very seriously. I think that’s a trait of international students. When they depart their country, it’s like they’ve come here with a task: you are to go to the United States, get this education, and excel at it. I’ve seen that in international students that I’ve come in contact with. I’m not sure if it’s by virtue of being at Hamilton or if that’s just how international students are, or if it could be a combination of both.

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