Starting college is a big transition for many. Starting college across the country is even more difficult. Now imagine starting school halfway across the world. Navigating a new place with someone who understands your culture, whom you can be yourself around, removes a huge burden on international students. Binghamton University student Chinomso (Choice) Eyegheleme is developing an app to help these students find supportive networks in their transition to U.S. schools and jobs.
The app, ConnectExpat, allows users to create a personal profile, find and send messages to nearby users from their country of origin. For example, an international student from India moving to Binghamton can find other students in Binghamton University, Broome County, and beyond, from India. Additional filters connect users who are studying a certain subject, employed at a certain company, or are part of a certain school. ConnectExpat serves as a cross between professional networking and a social media app.
Skilled in mathematics and currently pursuing his master’s in electrical engineering, Choice always had entrepreneurial drive and aspirations. In Nigeria where he was born, Choice founded his own consultant company, where he tutored SAT/GMAT mathematics to prospective students looking to study abroad.
Keeping in touch with former students allowed him to see the value in talking and sharing experiences of moving internationally. Choice found that many of the people who went to study internationally before him ran into similar issues like loneliness, culture shock and difficulty making connections. It takes a while to get used to a new place. At first, the easiest people to talk to are those who are from the same place you are. ConnectExpat aims to connect those people to ease the transition and allow people to share insights and comforts.
“That basic relief is what I’m trying to put at everybody’s fingertips,” Choice said. “No matter where you go, you have your community at your fingertips, like your home away from home. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
As a volunteer helping new international students and someone who has always enjoyed storytelling, Choice sees ConnectExpat as a way for people to share their stories with others. Sometimes, Choice notes, it is much easier to learn from conversations with others, rather than just plain facts and information.
“I realized that most times, information is not all. People need interaction as well. I think that helps a lot more than just information. I’ve noticed that for a lot of people, telling them your story, telling them things from your experience, will help them settle in better.”
Choice developed the framework for ConnectExpat through the NSF I-Corps program hosted by Binghamton University’s Office of Entrepreneurship at the Koffman Incubator. Through the program, he focused on figuring out his customer base, and learned to “think big, but start small and grow fast”, to hone in on how the app should work. He went through the incubator’s Accelerator program several months later, which helped Choice sharpen his business outline. There he learned how to talk to customers, investors, and interested parties differently, pitch his app, and make sure his idea was an efficient solution on the market.
Currently, ConnectExpat hosts 2000 users, with a goal of 5000 in the next three months. Choice hopes that the app becomes a standard recommendation of universities for international students. For anyone thinking about traveling abroad or just moving to another city, Choice wants ConnectExpat to be the first tool they reach for.
ConnectExpat is currently available on the Apple and Google app stores.
Learn more about the app on their website https://www.connectexpat.com/