We just finished off our first workshop on Asian Awareness for Northeast Ohio organizations — this time, we focused on higher education.
Many schools are faced with a decline in international applicants. Some of that may be tied to post-911 policies in immigration and general international relations. Other reasons, however, can be traced back to a specific school and how they choose to handle international students. As one of our panelists, Todd McKinney noted, when students have a negative experience at a college/university, word gets back home pretty fast and people decide not to apply.
Then there are some programs that don’t get enough applicants (but want to). One of our attendees was from the University of Akron Law School. Asians don’t make up a significant number of their applicants, but they were hoping to attract more people from Asian countries.
Here are ten of the takeaway ideas we came up with from our workshop. Most of these could just as easily apply to ANY international student:
1. Transportation. Imagine arriving in the US with no car, no driver’s license…and no way to get to school (or anywhere).
Sure, you could just leave this up to students…but consider this: they have no insurance upon arrival. And chances are, the people they arrange to pick them up are other international students — brand-spanking-new drivers with little experience or insurance.
The alternative — a taxi — could be pricey and might open them up to being scammed by a less-than-honorable cabbie.
Why not consider picking up students from the airport.
But don’t stop there. Why not offer transportation on the weekends as well? Students need to do shopping from time to time and the best stores may not be around the corner.
2. Shelter. It’s one of the basic needs on Maslow’s hierarchy. Do you offer students a place to stay? Most schools provide undergraduate housing — but what about grad students? Many of them opt to stay off campus, so where will they live in the meantime? Consider arranging a stopgap option for new students. For example, Todd McKinney created a nonprofit bed and breakfast that provided free lodging and food for the first week, and helped international students find a good apartment. He even knew which landlords were on the up-and-up, so these newcomers wouldn’t be scammed, and distributed free furniture.
And that leads me to the next point…
3. Work with welcoming organizations in the community — people like Todd McKinney.
What about your community? Are there organizations out there international students should know about the moment they step on campus? Make sure you let them know!
Also, you might consider working with some of these organizations to offer services to students. Maybe you can’t afford to provide transportation — but a local nonprofit could fill in the gap for you.
4. Create a short-list of friendly local businesses/organizations. Found those nonprofits? Great. Now add to that list banks, insurance companies, immigration lawyers, travel agencies, churches…and any other businesses/organizations that welcome international students. Don’t assume they’ll know — or even want to, in the American way, “do their homework”. They’re exhausted and trying to acclimate.
Take that list, put it online or in a hardcopy form, and distribute it to your international students.
5. Insurance for families. Students are required to be insured, but their families are not. More than a few international students — from Asia and beyond — come here with a spouse and young ones in tow. Make their life a little easier by connecting them with low-cost or no-cost charity clinics in the area.
6. The lay of the law. This is the US, one of the most litigious societies in the world. All it takes is a little fender-bender (or worse) before you get caught in some legal morass. It’s hard enough for those of us who grew up here — imagine what it must be like for a newcomer.
Be sure to provide legal assistance to international students. It could be as simple as building up an army of student and faculty legal ambassadors who are on call for international students.
7. Money matters. International students may know their academics — but don’t assume that includes money management. Sometimes they’re not aware of the hidden costs of living (such as insurance). Other times, they have unrealistic expectations (wanting to own a brand-new car). And in general, they’re perplexed by things such as credit cards and checks.
Whatever the situation, it pays (no pun intended) to give them the 411 on how to manage finances.
8. Invite students to Thanksgiving. Why not arrange for local families to host students at their Thanksgiving table? It’s an opportunity for them to learn something about US culture, and it makes the students feel more at home. All it means is an extra seat and little less leftovers (something most of us don’t miss anyway). Unlike Christmas, there’s no worrying about the gifts.
9. Details, details, details. One of our panelists said he never forgot how his school called him (this was an international call, mind you) right before he arrived, and made sure things were in place. Talk about reaching out.
What little things can you do to show you care? It could be a phone call, a personal letter, or anything else that might make a difference — even if it’s a small one.
10. Don’t be shy. A lot of Asian students are reluctant to speak up — sometimes just because of their cultural upbringing. They may be slower to make friends, or may need help (but don’t know how to ask for it) or just might want to talk to you. So make sure you’re getting involved with them, and especially that you create a safe space for them to come. The first week is DEFINITELY critical, but don’t let it stop there! Rong Song said that students often hit a low mid-semester — when you may least expect it. It requires a continuous effort to build that relationship.
One note — don’t just tell them to come if they have a problem. Welcome them to come ANYTIME. Talk to them, reach out, build that trust, and show a genuine interest. They’ll thank you for it in the long run.