On April 8th, Gordon’s International Student Organization (ISO) celebrated its 10th anniversary and bid farewell to founder Ingrid Orellana Matthew. Students of all backgrounds to gathered over desserts and warm drinks in Chester’s Place.
With the help of mentors and alumni, Matthew founded ISO as a student-led organization in 2012, but there has always been a “robust” international student community at Gordon which created a sense of community for one another. She said, “I don’t take credit for the work that many other peers put into creating ISO. . . . There were international students in their junior or senior year who truly embodied what being a family looked like for us. They were hosting bible studies for us, we would have fellowship nights, meals together… I felt like we were not lacking anything.”
Matthew attributed ISO’s creation to former president Dr. Michael Lindsay’s initiative to increase the international student population at Gordon. These efforts included active international recruiting and more specific student services, such as social security, on-campus work, and filing taxes. ISO’s formation also allotted a more significant budget towards hosting events on campus for international students to gather as a family.
She recalled, “One summer I went up to Dan Tymann’s house. I wasn’t able to fly back to El Salvador and was in need of a job… something that could help me pay for summer housing. . . . I told him that I wanted to work with international students, and if he were to support that, I would be there to give out my time to help grow whatever was happening.”
Sheryl DeLuca, who was working in Global Education at the time, acted as a mentor to Matthew and helped her, along with alumni, to put together the first ISO orientation. Together they devised a mission statement, established a vision for ISO, and defined criteria for what it means to be an international student. Matthew said, “We wanted to create a space where at the end of the day, our God is our father and no matter where we come from, we are one big international family.” ISO’s goal was to serve as a “bridge” for international students where their emotional and practical needs could be met.
Matthew was the ISO director for three years as a student. She took a five month gap after graduation, after which she began overseeing ISO and international admissions. The anniversary celebration served as a going away party, after she stepped down from her position after ten years of leadership.
At the time of its founding, there was a tight knit group of ten ISO students in Matthew’s graduating class which has since grown, with 47 different countries currently represented on campus. The team has also grown with the addition of Caroline Dixon, who manages the paperwork for VISA logistics and taxes, and Judy Swanson, who works in Academics to help ELL students and those needing academic adjustment. Despite the ravages of COVID-19 and the challenges it created, ISO continued to be “one big international family” and a support system for anyone who needed it.
The festivities included a highlight reel of ISO’s history, recognition of current and former ISO leaders, and extended sentiments towards Ingrid as “school mom” to so many international students. Current ISO seniors Ivy Tang, Roddy Nglomingi, Meti Violette, Edmund Agy, Bea Romero Santiago, and Matt Ramos were recognized for their ongoing leadership. They offered advice to underclassmen, such as getting out of your comfort zone, attending and helping with ISO events, asking for help, and making friends outside of ISO. The celebration also included special performances from Yena Kim and Alnique Young-Looby.
The students and alumni present spanned graduating classes from 2017 to 2022. Matthew thanked past alumni and others who helped her start ISO, along with those who organized the event, calling it “the reunion that we’ve always wanted.” She expressed gratitude for how much each person taught her, particularly “what home looks like through each of you.” As a monocultural student growing up in El Salvador, Matthew knew God as “the God of El Salvador,” but each person expanded her view of what God means to each person. While Matthew is resigning from her position, she said her caring doesn’t end and expressed her desire to continue reconnecting with ISO students and continuing her role as their “big sis” or “mom.”
ISO leaders, Matthew’s coworkers, and alumni spoke of her as “the backbone of ISO” and shared fond memories of her care, hospitality and selfless giving. Needless to say, many happy tears were shed. Matthew, her husband Toby, and their dog Milo were presented with flowers and a box of gifts. Matthews’s American parents Mama and Papa T spoke of how ISO had grown over the years, telling her that “you have many jewels in your crown.”
Matthew said that her favorite part of ISO has been the “opportunity to say that I work with the world.” The biggest challenge, she shared, has been work-style differences, but these have been overcome through mindfulness of cultural differences in leadership styles and the way that serving manifests itself in different cultures. She emphasized the important of respecting differences in leadership without imposing.