Feature Stories Campus Events All Stories

International Bonds Members of Washington and Lee University’s Class of 2024 who began their W&L experience at the University of St. Andrews in 2020 reflect on their unique experience.

St.-Andrews-Crew-1-wp-1-1140x759 International BondsMembers of the “St. Andrews Crew” gather outside Graham-Lees.

Washington and Lee University’s Commencement ceremony in May will mark the completion of a college journey that began, for the Class of 2024, in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. And for several of this year’s graduating class, that journey began at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland.

In early July 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic worsened around the world, incoming international students were unsure whether they would be allowed to travel to the United States to matriculate at Washington and Lee. The university decided that these students should have the option to start their first semester at St. Andrews, with whom W&L has partnered since 2001 to provide study abroad experiences for students.

Mark Rush, W&L’s director of international education, recounted the actions the center took in response to the pandemic. While working to accommodate the many international students who were stuck in the U.S. or on campus as a result of the pandemic, his team realized they would need to start troubleshooting for the incoming class, who they knew would face tremendous challenges as they tried to get to the U.S.

“In a staff meeting, we joked that it would almost be easier to send the students to St. Andrews, but then we realized that because British consular services had maintained more staff and because St. Andrews had kept to its normal academic calendar, there was a real chance that our first-year international students could enroll there in person for the Fall Term,” Rush said. “We knew this would enable them to bond as a group, have an in-person experience in their first term at university and take actions necessary to get to the U.S. in time to start Winter Term.”

Diwesh Kumar ’24, from Karachi, Pakistan, said the opportunity to attend St. Andrews was a welcome alternative to letting the pandemic further impede his academic journey.

“My thought process at the time was, ‘Do I stay behind in Pakistan and try virtual classes with a nine-hour time difference, or do I go to St. Andrews,’” said Kumar. “I knew I would at least get to experience a different country with everyone else, and I wanted to start my college experience in whatever capacity was possible — I think that was sort of the thought process for everyone at the time.”

Kumar, who now serves as vice president of the Executive Committee, said the group had created Snapchat and GroupMe threads throughout the summer leading up to their arrival in Edinburgh and were in touch as members of the group began to arrive and quarantine in advance of beginning classes. Many in the group fondly remember walks on the East Sands beach between classes, as well as an outing to London to complete VISA documentation. Kumar said his experience in St. Andrews influenced how he chose to get involved once the group finally arrived on W&L’s campus in January.

“I did a lot of things in the beginning purely for the sake of getting to know people,” Kumar said.

IMG_4080_Originalwp-1-1024x768 International BondsA group dinner in Scotland during the St. Andrews cohort’s Fall Term

Rwanda native Charlene Nsengimana ’24 said that in addition to the lifelong bonds she has with her St. Andrews classmates, she is most grateful for the support she received from Washington and Lee’s Center for International Education and credits Hunter Swanson, associate director of international education, for keeping the group connected to Lexington throughout their first fall term.

“Hunter does an amazing job for international students on our campus,” Nsengimana said. “We had constant communication with his office while we were in Scotland. He did a great job of keeping us all in the loop and helping us prepare for our arrival on campus.”

 CIE kept in touch with the group regularly via Zoom meetings and had current students on campus in Lexington make care packages to share with a student at St. Andrews. W&L students who were studying at St. Andrews at the same time helped coordinate the surprise and also communicated to the new students what to expect when arriving at W&L from their perspective. CIE also helped with the planning for the trip to apply for the U.S. student visa in the U.K. and planned a special orientation program before the start of the Winter Term.

“This group of students put a lot of trust in W&L at a very uncertain time, so we wanted to make sure that they felt prepared and confident as they made the transition from St. Andrews to W&L,” Swanson said.

Nsengimana said that in looking back on her college experience, the positives outweigh the negatives.

“I’ve had amazing experiences every step of the way,” Nsengimana said. “When I reflect on the harder parts of it, I also remember that I got the opportunity to grow close to this great group of people and got the chance to live in Scotland for four months – looking back, you only really remember the positives.”

IMG_0355_Original-wp-537x768 International BondsThe group traverses London on a trip to complete the VISA documentation.

Andy Wong ’24 said that his experiences at W&L have only continued to confirm his choice to attend a small liberal arts institution.

“Other than the rich history of the university that drew me in, the strong sense of community was part of the reason why I decided to commit to W&L of all places in the world,” he said. Wong reached out via LinkedIn to alumni in his hometown of Hong Kong from each college he was accepted to and only received replies from W&L alumni.

“We then had hour-long phone calls getting to know each other and learning more about the school. That’s when I knew ‘the strong alumni network’ is more than just words on an admission brochure,” Wong said.

He took the opportunity to study abroad again during his junior year at the University of Oxford and says that experience as well as his time at St. Andrews made him appreciate W&L even more.

“I think the opportunities, resources, mentorships and global experiences I have received at W&L is unparalleled to any other school I could have attended,” Wong said.

“Looking back, it is tremendously rewarding to see how the university was able to organize from within and coordinate such a wonderful response to the pandemic that enabled our international students to have as ‘normal’ a Fall Term as possible,” Rush said. “Our staff, our students already at St. Andrews and, of course, the staff at St. Andrews made it possible not only to get our students together despite the pandemic, but also to form a bond with W&L from afar. In the Aeneid, when things were really going badly for his crew, Aeneus said that one day they all would look back on their tribulations and laugh. Happily, our international students and the faculty and staff at W&L and St. Andrews can look back, laugh and smile, and take pride in the efforts that made the first year a memorable one for our international students who came to us in 2020-21.”

The “St. Andrews Crew” share memories and post-graduation plans:

Danish Bokhari ’24, from Islamabad, Pakistan, is a computer science major with a minor in math. He has been an active member of Club Soccer, representing W&L against different schools, and is also the president of GenTech, a student-run club with the goal of empowering our community through technology. Bokhari plans to work as a full stack developer after graduation.

Guangpu Chen ’24, a native of Nanjing, China, plans to gain experience in social sciences research before obtaining her Ph.D. in sociology. Chen still fondly remembers her last visit to the beach at St. Andrews with her W&L classmates before departing for Lexington.

“It was just such a peaceful moment,” said Chen, “being able to spend time together and watch the sunset.”

Soliman Elhussiny ’24 has been a member of Connolly Entrepreneurship Society and president of GenTech during his time on campus. The business and computer science major, a native of Cairo, plans to work in the tech industry.

Diwesh Kumar ’24, a math and economics major from Karachi, Pakistan, recently received the Center for International Education’s Global Learning Leadership Award, which recognizes a student in the undergraduate senior class who has contributed the most to the cultivation of global learning on the W&L campus and who best exemplifies the university’s commitment to lifelong learning, personal achievement, responsible leadership, service to others and engaged citizenship. After graduation, he will be moving to San Francisco to begin an investment banking position with Morgan Stanley.

Oskar von Mandelsloh ’24 is an economics and global politics major with a minor in data science – business analytics from Meiling, Germany. During his time on campus, he has worked continuously as an athletics communications assistant, recording game stats, running the scoreboard or game clocks. Mandelsloh has also served as a peer tutor for various economics and German courses and as a teaching assistant for Econ-202 Statistics for Economics. He has served as a team lead in Washington and Lee Student Consulting, was a summer research scholar during the summer of 2022 and is an active member of the soccer and chess clubs. He is a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. After graduation, he will be working at Analysis Group, an economic consulting firm in Washington, D.C.

Economics and mathematics double major Eman Muamar ’24 is an incoming investment banking analyst at Deutsche Bank from Khan Yunis, Gaza Strip. During her time on campus, she has served as vice president of W&L’s chapter of Amnesty International, a Career Fellow in the Office of Career and Professional Development and an ambassador for the Office of Inclusion and Engagement. She is a member of the Connolly Entrepreneurship Society and has served as an interpreter for the Immigrant Rights Clinic at W&L’s School of Law.

“St. Andrews has a very special place in my heart because it’s the first university experience I ever had,” Muamar said, “and I think those of us who were there together found the transition to W&L that much easier, because we were experiencing it together.”

Hanoi, Vietnam, native Giang Nguyen ’24 is an incoming investment analyst at Deutsche Bank. The business and environmental studies major has served as president of W&L’s Student Association for International Learning (SAIL), a member of W&L Student Consulting and a sustainability intern.

Charlene Nsengimana ’24, a native of Kigali, Rwanda, is a cognitive and behavioral science and business administration double major. Nsengimana was a member of the wluLex social media team for her sophomore and junior year and the GAB publicity chair during her sophomore year. She has served as the Contact Committee publicity chair this year and has been a peer counselor since her sophomore year. She is a member of Kappa Alpha Theta and the current president of the Cognitive and Behavioral Science Club (CABS Club). She plans to pursue a career in marketing.

Amy Qian ’24 will pursue a Ph.D. in finance at Rice University after graduating. Qian, an economics and mathematics double major from Shanghai, has served as a teaching assistant and a peer tutor in economics and was a pre-orientation leader for international students as well as a resident adviser.

“These experiences have been incredibly rewarding, fostering a deep sense of bonding and contribution to the community,” Qian said, “and have not only allowed me to give back but have also enriched my own learning journey.”

Naila Rahman ’24, an economics and politics double major from Dhaka, Bangladesh, said that any worries she had about feeling isolated when she arrived to W&L’s campus from Scotland in January 2021 were quickly dispelled by the warm welcome she received from fellow students, faculty and staff. In addition to serving as a peer counselor and tutor on campus, Rahman said her W&L experience has allowed her to explore the world through further study abroad experiences in Denmark, Germany and England as well as a finance internship in New York.

“I’ve been lucky to have such a positive experience, even after an unconventional start to college,” Rahman said.

Business major Jacopo Scagliotti ’24 is from Milan, Italy, and will be working at Deutsche Bank’s New York office as an investment banking analyst after graduation. He has been a member of the Connolly Entrepreneurship Society, served as an analyst and group head in Diversified Capital Group and is a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.

Neissa Usanse ’24 is a biochemistry major Musanze, Rwanda. She has been a member of Nabors Service League, choir and the W&L African Society. She has also served as a technology specialist in W&L’s Global Discovery Lab and conducted summer research on campus and abroad during her time at W&L. She will be returning home for a gap year after graduation before pursuing graduate study in the U.S.

Engineering major Sharif Wilson ’24 came to W&L from Harare, Zimbabwe, and will be working in investment banking after graduation. He is a member of Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity and Kathekon, and he also participated in collegiate track during his time on campus.

Andy Wong ’24, a math and philosophy double major from Hong Kong, is a Bonner Scholar who participated in the university’s study abroad program at Oxford University during his junior year as well as summer internships abroad through programs such as the Johnson Opportunity Grant. He is a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and plans to pursue a career in global markets.