The legacy of Michigan State University president John Hannah runs long and deep, especially with the international community. In 1956, Hannah created the International Programs, which aimed “to initiate, coordinate, and other wise support internationally related activities throughout the institution”. This program, later renamed the International Studies and Programs, continues to flourish.
According to the annual Statistical Report by the Office for International Students and Scholars (OISS) at MSU, 4,509 international students were enrolled at MSU during the fall 2008 semester, approximately 9.7 percent of MSU’s total enrollment for that that semester. Additionally, the study reported that “International freshman increased by 34 percent over fall 2007. This is extraordinary growth of 67.5 percent from fall 2006.”
The exponential growth of these programs presents new challenges for the university. While international students and American students share similar worries and concerns about adapting to college life, international students face additional burdens.
“It’s even harder than for American students because international students are really far away from home and families,” said Amber Arashiro, international student advisor and orientation coordinator of OISS. Also, there are a lot of pressures such as cultural differences, expensive tuition in comparison with most American students, language barriers and so on. Arashiro added that international students need help assimilating into both MSU and American culture.
How has MSU helped international students?
Over 50 of groups and organizations exist to help international students, scholars and their families. (see the list below) Each group and organization has provided various programs to support them.
The OISS is the biggest organization to help international students and scholars. It focuses primarily on issues pertaining to immigration and documentation. The organization also coordinates programs to help international students such as international orientation, welcome week, weekly ‘coffee hours,’ field trips and essay contests. “OISS tries to promote internationalizing on campus and helps to promote students’ events,” Said Arashiro. If international students have any problems, Arashiro said that “OISS is the first place to come and talk about their issues.” OISS has strong partnerships with other units on campus such as the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions (OCAT).
OCAT focuses on both international and American undergraduate students. “To be successful in college, students have to make changes to adapt totally different expectations and have to transition adapt to new environment culturally,” said Maggie Chen Hernandez, Associate Director of OCAT. According to her, the program “is applied to all students no matter if they are international students or not.” The OCAT has created a Cultural Aides Program to support students’ academic success. The 66 student staff members of OCAT are charged with working in the residence halls and they visit freshmen students to talk and understand some changes and transitions students going though. “Most students make friends who are just like them. It’s human nature,” Hernandez said. “We try to interrupt this and establish interactions between different cultures and give information how to be close each other.”
According to Jan Stacey Bieler, vice president of Community Volunteers for International Programs, American students participate in volunteer activities to help international students, who may need help adjusting to new environments. “Volunteer groups for international students and families were established not by one direction but by mutual interactions,” Bieler said.
Alexandra Albers, a global and area studies and English senior, volunteers with OISS and the TA tutoring program for international graduate students in order to meet new people. Albers said she wanted to have opportunities for new ways of thinking and different ways of living, as well as familiarize herself with international issues she might know nothing about. Albers added that she was satisfied with the programs she’s participating in.
Ann Desiderio, a teaching English to speakers of other languages master’s student and the representative of International Students Association to Council of Graduate Students, said “we have a lot of dedicated people working behind the scenes to help keep MSU diverse and to also assist our international community. And MSU does a great job make the campus more global.”
Although many events and other activities have been held on campus, many students have missed it because they don’t know events are happening. Also, there are many organizations and groups for students, but there are an insufficient number of volunteers and staffs to support programs for international students. Arashiro said that “even though the international student population keeps increasing, our OISS staff isn’t increasing.” There are a lot of demands for programs but resources are limited. Thus, Arashiro said that OISS has taken feedback seriously and tried out different ideas.
“I wish there were more volunteer opportunities offered by OISS and other departments around campus working with international students,” Albers said. She added that “I know there are students all around campus searching for a way to get involved, and it would be a shame for OISS to ignore this untapped pool of possible volunteers.”
“A lot of students haven’t heard about COGS and other programs at MSU before,” said Robin Blom, the representative of J school to COGS and 3rd year in the media and information studies doctoral program. “So organizations should be more prominent within the beginning of the semester. But it is difficult to reach every student.”
MSU has worked to help international students transition into MSU and American life. However, there are still some problems. Albers said that volunteer experiences are spread directly by word of mouth, and the lack of volunteers is in part due to communication problems. In other words, MSU has to focus on how they can be a strong bridge between international students and American students. Through interactions with people who come from different cultural backgrounds and countries people learn about other cultures, even themselves, and people who are different. By getting different nationalities clubs together and inviting each other to cultural events, international student groups can help students have cultural confidence and to promote cross cultural opportunities, Arashiro said. That’s why MSU has organized many global and international programs. Hernandez said that American culture is egocentric in comparison with other cultures, so through many programs, they want to help students to have cultural confidence when they graduate.
Interested in getting involved?
Most organizations and groups send out mass email to students, put posters and inform mouth to mouth. Recently, they also join Facebook and Twitter to spread out information effectively. Desiderio said that “the possibilities are endless if you want to get involved with international affairs at MSU.” She gave many tips on how to get involved.
1. Check out OISS’ website, ISA’s Facebook and other groups’ internet pages. (See the list)
2. Coffee Hour, which is on every Friday at 4-6pm, International Center Cafeteria, to talk with people from around the world.
3. McDonel Hall’s McGlobe puts on many cultural and international events.
4. A resource fair in the beginning of the school year. MSU holds a resource fair where many international groups provide information about how to get involved.
5. Global Festival in November. It is a big event to help celebrate cultures from around the world.
Arab Cultural Society
(Coalition of) Indian Undergraduate Students
International Athletic Association