Villanova’s rise in national recognition is undeniable, and this correlates to the rapid increase in interest from students globally. While Villanova maintains an already-established, crucial support systems for these students, these services need to expand and improve along with the growth of the international student program. However, because the program is largely understaffed, this poses a difficult question for the International Students Organization (ISO): How can we best assist international students with integration into the community of international students, the student body overall, and in the classroom, and help them identify and strategize their post-graduation plans? Orientation, student and faculty awareness, and Villanova’s administration are essential to this process. However, the program still needs more support.
Orientation is key for all students’ transition to college. We are pushed out of our comfort zones and forced to immediately situate ourselves at our new school both academically and socially. This significant adjustment is difficult even for local students; for international students, it is even more complex. Before they can begin their Villanova experience, matters such as obtaining social security numbers, driver’s licenses, health insurance, seeking work permission, and visa requirements and regulations (and much more) must be dealt with first. Furthermore, when they do arrive, they are faced with an entirely new education system, social norms, and culture. This convoluted transition requires special attention and care, specifically on the part of the Orientation Counselors (OCs) and Administrative Assistants (AAs). However, Jade Huang, class of 2020 ISO member and orientation AA, notes that OCs and AAs are not educated pre-orientation enough regarding how to best approach, welcome, and support international students throughout orientation. Although she used her own experience to support the incoming international students, she suggests and emphasizes the dire need for a more formal introduction regarding specific support of international students for all OC and AAs.
In addition to improve orientation, Jade and other international students also hope to establish a “buddy-system” for incoming international students to connect with current international students and Global Interdisciplinary Studies (GIS) students. This would provide them with a gateway to ask many of the questions that Villanova’s administration does not or cannot provide sufficient answers for. Furthermore, it would provide them with a smaller network to help minimize pre-arrival anxiety and to lean on when they are here.
Jade and other international students also stress the student body’s lack of awareness and inclusion of international students. Often, international students feel ostracized from the community or worried that they are only defined as an international student, rather than for who they really are. An anonymous international student remarks, “Villanova talks about the importance of diversity and inclusiveness, but we don’t feel it. There’s no platform for us to really feel welcomed or connected.” They are individuals that want to be known and heard. But, how do we encourage the student body to take greater interest in the program? The hope is that cultural events and programs such as GIS can raise awareness of international students and the struggles that they face. Moreover, it starts with us, the students, and our willingness to open our minds and hearts to change our attitudes.
International students have needs that stretch far beyond Orientation and the first few weeks of school, just like any other typical Villanova student. Villanova runs three main offices to support international students: The Center for Access Success and Achievement (CASA), The Office of Intercultural affairs (OIA), The International Students Services Office (ISSO).
The CASA has many responsibilities including but not limited to tutoring, scholarships, academic counseling, life coaching, promoting visibility of international students on campus, and assisting in access academic materials. The CASA website determines that its goal is “to promote self-care, self-actualization, and self-advocacy.”
The OIA essentially functions as a blanket organization, which seeks to promote inclusion for minorities on campus. However, international students comment that they wish the OIA had more separation among different cultures, rather than clumping all international students into one group. For example, a German cultural inclusion event is just as foreign to a Chinese international student as typical Villanova events are.
The ISSO provides assistance in immigration rights & responsibilities and counseling with regard to campus activities as well as academic, social, and personal issues. In addition, the International Students Organization (ISO) is student-run organization that provides a tight-knit community of international students and student-to-student support.
These offices and organizations are crucial to support international students. The staff designated to help international students is very dedicated and as helpful as they can be given their resources; however, these staff members are often spread thin across multiple responsibilities and departments, creating a large gap between the international students and the assistance they really need. For example, Steve McWilliams serves as the Director of International Student Services and Disability Services. This hinders his ability to place his attention fully on international students or fully on students with disabilities. Thus, they cannot sufficiently fulfill all of the needs they claim to address online. For instance, some students said that they were unsure of how to approach teachers who speak English too fast, because their culture at home reproaches students challenging authoritative figures. This is not only the result of culture clash, but a lack of academic support on behalf of Villanova. This added level of anxiety is overwhelming and places international students at a disadvantage. Thus, it is crucial to expand the international student support staff in these offices so that it can fully reach all of the students that need it. This issue is not only prevalent in the international students offices and organizations, but also occurs in other departments such as the Career Center.
The Career Center is fundamental in organizing our plans for internships and post-graduation job searches. While all students must create a resume, learn to navigate career fairs, and apply for jobs, international students have an added level of difficulty: finding companies that will support their ability to remain in the United States after graduation. However, the Career Center does not have a specific sector dedicated to handling these issues, so often international students are left with little to no guidance. The career center does not do any specific outreach to companies for international students, and leaves many of them confused as to which companies are more or less likely to hire them due to their international student status. Furthermore, the Career Center does not take in data specifically on post-graduation placement of international students, which would be useful to both post-graduate and incoming international students. A few international students said that because Villanova provides no formal information on these issues, they learn about this vital information through word of mouth, which leads to rumors and misinformation. They suggested that the Career Center advise students on how to navigate discussion with companies about hiring non-US citizens and exactly which rights they have as non-US citizen applicants. To do this, the Career Center must develop a sector specifically for international students. This would provide international students with the platform to ask questions about navigating the job market (in a country foreign to them, nonetheless) specifically with regard to immigration issues. Improvement of the career center’s international student support is imperative for their ability to succeed in the United States after graduation.
It is clear that the CASA, OIA, ISSO, and ISO try to help international students as much as they can in their transition. But simply put, there is systematically not enough resources for the program to run all of the services it should. Furthermore, the student body and staff must be more educated about the struggles that international students face, in order to better connect during orientation and throughout our time at Villanova. This would not only largely benefit international students, but widen our own perspectives. With these improvements, everyone would have equal opportunity and the resources to succeed at Villanova and in the United States.