Justin Guiffre: Integrating international students

My first week at GW, everybody was talking about Colonial Inauguration. It is where all the freshmen students had met their friends and been first exposed to GW culture. It has become one of the major selling points of the University, and as the GW Web site explains, “Colonial Inauguration starts your GW years with a laser show and the spirited Colonial Cabinet chorus!”

When I talked to people who had attended different CI sessions then me, I was surprised to find that there was, in fact, a laser show. Having attended the Fall CI, intended mostly for international students, I was left wondering: where was our laser light show?

Honestly, I am not that upset about missing out on lasers and fight songs. Yet it is a fitting example of how international students can sometimes feel like second-class citizens when it comes to dealing with the University. Overall CI was a positive experience, as has been my entire experience with GW so far. Even so, if GW wants to continue taking pride in having such a diverse student body, there are some improvements that should be made to the school’s handling of international students.

One of the biggest issues that faced international students this year was communication with the University, or lack thereof. There are several vital documents sent to new students that require prompt responses. I was fortunate to get my acceptance letter at my military address in Japan. Yet my financial aid information went to my stateside address in New Mexico, which I did not have timely access to.

GW could easily solve this problem by utilizing e-mail services. Many colleges will simultaneously mail and e-mail all of the documents that are essential for new students. GW does have the MyGW system, but it is often difficult to know where to look if you are not familiar with navigating it. All of these problems are only exacerbated by the fact that many international students know English simply as a second language. A more effective e-mailing service would be an efficient way to make sure that information is received and understood in a timely manner.

Another difficulty facing students from overseas is course registration. The GWeb Information System, which handles course selection, opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. stateside. Doing course selection for the first time was confusing enough without having to do it at 3 a.m.

Having the International CI right before classes start creates another issue with course selection. For students that were able to attend a regular CI there was more than a month to fix their schedules, yet international students had only a few days. These are two areas in which small, considerate actions from the University would make an international student’s experience that much easier.

Many international students also encounter problems financially. Because these students are often not U.S. citizens, they do not qualify for the same kind of financial assistance that their American classmates do. GW does have an International Services Office, however the financial aspects of the ISO are much more geared toward graduate students than undergrads. GW could be more proactive in helping undergraduate international students receive funding for their education. This could easily take the form of better communication about student’s options and perhaps a scholarship program reserved for international students.

Revamping so many systems would be a huge undertaking, but even little things can contribute to vastly improving the experiences of these students. As all of these little instances start to add up, a certain feeling of a double standard, real or imaginary, is created. Surely that is the last thing GW wants to do to any of its student population.

Over the past decade international student enrollment has steadily decreased at GW. According to the GW Office of Institutional Research in 1996 international students composed 12.5 percent of the entire student body. Today they compose roughly 7.9 percent of GW students. This is a trend that needs to be reversed. International students contribute to the broad world-view that GW wishes to instill in its student body. If GW can improve its dealings with international students it will improve its standing not simply as an American university but as a school that is globally conscious.

The writer is a freshman majoring in political science.

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