When Thia Anyaoku ’23 was exploring her options for college, she knew she wanted to break out of the box and discover a new world of possibilities beyond the shorelines of her home country of England. Ultimately, Gettysburg College gave Anyaoku the key to both a vibrant and welcoming community and an unparalleled and career-defining educational experience.
Introduced to Gettysburg through the Sutton Trust US Programme, Anyaoku applied Early Decision without visiting campus. She traveled more than 3,600 miles from her home in East London to reach Gettysburg in the fall of 2019. It was the longest distance she had ever been from her home, and it was her first trip to America.
Learning to order fries when she wanted chips, and chips when she wanted crisps was a minor adjustment compared to the scope of being in a new country surrounded by unfamiliar faces, but Gettysburg’s pre-Orientation for international students quickly set her up to make connections and find comfort within her newfound community.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking but also exciting,” recalled the health sciences major. “It definitely did take some time to adjust to a new culture, but the International Orientation prior to Orientation really helped me adjust not only to campus, but to life in America. It helped me plan for things I never thought of, like getting a social security card or opening a bank account.”
“Be open to every and any opportunity. It seems like played-out advice, but sometimes the small things you say yes to bear the biggest fruit.”
– Thia Anyaoku ’23
Anyaoku, who was born in Nigeria and moved to England when she was 3, was one of 30-plus international students matriculating to Gettysburg at the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year. During International Student Orientation, the Office of International Student Services helps students from around the world acclimate to their new surroundings on campus and learn how to live and work in the United States, including understanding the regulations for visas and employment.
“International Student Orientation is purposely designed to help new students transition to life in the U.S., and specifically life here on our campus,” Director of International Student Services Brad Lancaster said. “We make sure that students have a solid foundation to build on when the semester starts, and we do that in a fun, interactive way that allows them to both get to know each other and their American classmates.”
In Anyaoku’s early days at Gettysburg, she was selected to represent the Class of 2023 during the First-Year Walk, receiving the key to the city from then-Mayor Theodore Streeter. During this College tradition, the incoming class of students walks through the town, greeted and cheered on by members of community at every turn, to the area near the National Cemetery where they hear a rendition of Abraham Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address. A representative from the incoming class has received the town key nearly every year since 2005.
“I had the honor of being given the key for my class at the First-Year Walk, which was overwhelming because I felt like I was representing a class I barely knew,” Anyaoku said. “It was the first time my class gathered together fully which made it really special as it symbolized how we are starting this journey together and then we will end it together at graduation.”
Receiving the key was just the start of a rewarding journey for Anyaoku. Over the last three years, she has developed strong ties to the campus community through her involvement in campus organizations and various work experiences. She joined the Black Student Union and Alpha Delta Pi sorority, and both groups immediately welcomed her with open arms and further helped her adjust to life in America. Being part of those tight-knit organizations has helped make the distance from home easier to cope with for Anyaoku. Her friends have even welcomed her into their homes during shorter breaks in the academic calendar when she wasn’t able to return to England, such as Thanksgiving and spring break.
In her first year at Gettysburg, Anyaoku’s foray into campus employment saw her take on a new challenge: learning American sports. Utilizing the Center for Career Engagement’s job listing website Handshake, she applied for a position in the Office of Athletic Communications, which handles communications and marketing for Gettysburg’s NCAA Division III athletic programs. The job introduced Anyaoku to new sports, including football and lacrosse, and gave her an opportunity to be on the frontlines watching her fellow students passionately pursue their own goals on the field.
“I've loved every moment working alongside the student-athletes because when you hear about their accomplishments, it means so much more because I was there witnessing them do it,” Anyaoku said.
Additionally, Anyaoku has worked as a fitness attendant in the Jaeger Center for Athletics, Recreation, and Fitness and as a health sciences researcher on campus last summer. Both experiences helped her learn more about herself and what she would like to do upon graduation. Most recently, Anyaoku served as a training nurse aide at a nearby long-term medical facility in Gettysburg, expanding her knowledge of patient-caregiver relationships first-hand.
When she first considered going to college, Anyaoku aspired to be a physical therapist, but spending the last three years engaging with Gettysburg’s liberal arts and sciences curriculum helped push her toward new opportunities. She now wants to pursue a career in the medical field that combines research, development, and marketing with a focus on medical devices. Thanks to the education and experiences she has received at Gettysburg, Anyaoku now knows she can be successful wherever her path takes her, whether that be England, the U.S., or anywhere in the world.
“If I had followed the original route, I would have just graduated as a physical therapist this summer and started looking for employment in that field,” Anyaoku said. “After three years in a liberal arts college, I know I do not want to be a physical therapist and I wouldn't have that insight if I had stayed in the U.K.”
With an incoming class of nearly 100 international students set to begin a similar journey to hers, she offered these words of advice: “Be open to every and any opportunity. It seems like played-out advice, but sometimes the small things you say yes to bear the biggest fruit.”
By Corey Jewart
Photos by Miranda Harple, Shawna Sherrell, and Abbey Frisco