For many foreign students at Kansas University, the Office of Foreign Student Services is literally their first stop on campus.
At the beginning of each semester, many foreign students step right off an airport shuttle bus and go directly to the office in the basement of Strong Hall, suitcases in tow.
"It's always busy," said Sara Martin, assistant director of the office. "We try to make room for the suitcases. But the students are the highest priority."
Last fall, KU had 1,870 students from 98 countries including 215 students from the People's Republic of China, which was KU's largest contingent of foreign students. One student was from the tiny European kingdom of Luxembourg.
More than two-thirds of KU's foreign student population are from Near East, Far East or Southeast Asian countries.
BETWEEN 350 and 400 new foreign students come to KU each semester. Because they have to take care of such matters as completing English proficiency tests, registering at KU health services and finding a place to live, foreign students often arrive about a week before other KU students, Martin said.
For the students' first few weeks at KU, the Office of Foreign Student Affairs is their guide.
Typical first-week questions center on where to bank, do laundry or buy pots and pans, Martin said.
Some need to know if they can work legally in the United States. After a few weeks, Martin said, student concerns take on a different theme, focusing more on more personal and cultural issues.
Foreign students may have trouble communicating with their American roommates and are unsure how to deal with it. The office tries to help deal with the problems.
"We establish the welcome and the trust at the very beginning when these people come in," Martin said.
Martin said the office encourages foreign students to assimilate into the U.S. culture.
THOUGH THE office is busy year-round, the beginning and end of semesters are predictably hectic, with paperwork being the main worry of students.
Vanessa Ramos, who came to KU in the fall of 1988 from Rio de Janiero, Brazil, said she was a regular at the office when she arrived at KU, making sure all her paperwork was in order.
In her first semester here, she was at the office so frequently that she and other students began calling then-director Clark Coan "Big Daddy."
A graphic design major, Ramos moved into McCollum Residence Hall when she arrived at the university. She chose to live with another Brazilian student who was coming to KU, but after a year moved into an apartment.
Most of her friends, she said, she met in her design classes.
"I came because it's a good school and the price is reasonable. The living is cheap, and the people are friendly."
Ramos still freqents the office of in Strong Hall.
"I always keep in touch," she said. "I at least need to come in and renew my visa."