Students showcase UNI to international audience

Students showcase UNI to international audience

Anna Flanders /
Dinithi Ferdinando and Rejana Avdiaj

Two Panthers have spent the semester documenting their experiences as international students and helping others along the way. Their blog, UNI Student Stories, documents the experiences of international students at UNI and what life is like in their home countries.

The project may have started as an assignment in their Digital Advertising class, but it’s become so much more for students Dinithi Ferdinando and Rejana Avdiaj.

“It’s become something very close to our hearts because everything that we are doing, we are doing with love,” said Avdiaj. “We are not doing this just because of the grade, but we are doing this because we really love to do it. So I think that's why our website has a lot of success.”

Through learning about so many other cultures, Avdiaj feels like she’s had the chance to travel the world while studying at UNI.

“I can say I have a lot of friends just because of this website because I had the chance to communicate and to talk with almost all the international students,” she said. “This was the best thing that I have done throughout my journey here. It will be a very good and unforgettable memory when I go back and see how many cultures and how many places I have visited in only one semester.”

Avdiaj interviews students, compiles videos and writes blog posts.

“It's a lot of time, but really it doesn't feel that big when you see the joy in international students talking about their country, how happy and proud they are talking about their country,” said Avdiaj. 

Another part of the website offers advice to international students on everything from navigating Iowa weather to joining student organizations. Ferdinando focuses on this content. 

“It's a lot of time, but really it doesn't feel that big when you see the joy in international students talking about their country, how happy and proud they are talking about their country."

Avdiaj and Ferdinando first met at the International Orientation hosted by the Office of International Engagement, which was led by Global Panther Success Team (GPS), a group of students dedicated to assisting the international community in adjusting to life at UNI. They had no idea that they were in two different sections of Matthew Wilson’s Digital Advertising class until Kristi Marchesani, director of international recruitment and admissions, connected them. Since they shared a passion for helping international students, they decided to collaborate on the class project of creating and maintaining a website.

Avdiaj and Ferdinando admit creating the content for the blog has been time-consuming and challenging. But the community they’ve created of people all around the world engaging with their content has made it worth it. They were even able to surpass their instructor’s challenge of obtaining 1,000 pageviews.

Although the Digital Advertising class is typically for undergraduate students, Ferdinando is glad she took the class as a graduate student. Without it, she may never have uncovered a passion for advertising.

“It has been a wonderful semester with so much learning and so much hands-on training,” she said.

Both students have had two very different journeys leading to UNI. Ferdinando comes from Sri Lanka and is pursuing her Master of Business Administration. Back in her home country, Ferdinando had numerous friends who studied in the United States. It made her want to take a similar path for her master’s degree. Attending workshops in South Korea and the Philippines during her undergraduate program further solidified that she wanted to branch out and get to know a new culture while earning her next degree.

“UNI was very responsive, and that gained my trust because I don’t have any relatives or family in the U.S."

Ferdinando applied to several American universities but often struggled with getting them to return her messages. This was not the case with the University of Northern Iowa.

Avdiaj hails from Albania and will only be at UNI for a semester during her undergraduate studies in business informatics.

She knows many people who dreamed of leaving her home country, but has always known Albania is her forever home. However, some American connections convinced her to apply for a scholarship to study in the United States. Avdiaj submitted her application to the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program on a whim, having no idea where she would end up studying if she did get accepted.

“They chose the University of Northern Iowa, and I couldn't be happier because I’ve met some very interesting and wonderful people,” she said. “I can say the staff here is like a second family for me, so I'm gonna miss them a lot.”

Since coming to UNI, both students have been impressed by the way instructors have gone out of their way to help them, especially in their Digital Advertising class with Matthew Wilson.

“One of the biggest motivations about this was the instructor being so helpful and so good with us,” said Avdiaj. “He’s so hard working, and we can see that he's very passionate, even when he's lecturing. So it means a lot.”

In addition to Wilson, Ferdinando and Avdiaj are grateful for Chris Schrage, an instructor of marketing and entrepreneurship. Each year, Schrage invites international students to her acreage. When Ferdinando and Avdiaj went, they took it as an opportunity to film several videos with international students.

“I'm so happy to say that there are professors who really want to help international students,” said Ferdinando.

Working on the blog has meant so much to Ferdinando and Avdiaj that they hope it will continue even after they leave UNI. You can read the blog here.