Officials increase communication with international parents

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Hatchet Photographer

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said officials have been trying to come up with new ways to connect with parents, especially parents of international students.

Near or far from D.C., parents can expect more communication this year from GW’s parents office.

Reaching out to and working with parents are top priorities for GW’s two top administrators who work closely with them. They are already implementing a plan to make online resources more accessible for international parents and connect more with them through social media.

Andrew Sonn, who was named director of the Office of Parent Services last week, and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said as numbers of international students increase, administrators are focusing on resources for parents just as much as their students.

Roughly 10 percent of GW’s undergraduate population is made up of international students. Officials plan to double that percentage by 2020 as part of the strategic plan.

When it comes to addressing the concerns of parents overseas, Konwerski said many parents face the same challenges whether they are domestic or international, but there are some problems that could get lost in translation because there may not be an equivalent program in their home countries.

“It’s synonymous in that they’re still parents,” he said. “It’s even harder from around the world thinking, ‘Is that happening for my son or daughter? Are they feeling alone or lonely?’”

Recently, staff have added translation features to the Office of Parent Services’ site as well as other sections of GW websites, which Konwerski said can help parents around the world and across time zones easily find out what resources at the University could help their students.

Konwerski said when Doug Shaw was named senior associate provost for international strategy earlier this year, they soon started working together on how to best reach out to international parents – a tie that connected administrators from the Division of Student Affairs and administrators who work more closely with globalization.

“Doug’s whole focus is on the international experience, so we’re thinking, ‘How do we plug into that with international students and parents?’” Konwerski said.

He added that the Office of Parent Services can be a “source of comfort” for parents when their children first go to college, especially those who go abroad.

Sonn, who just began as the director of parents services, previously worked with the International Services Office as assistant vice president for student and academic support services.

Not only are academics different around the world, but the college experience is different in America compared to that in many other countries, Sonn said.

“Student life-wise, international students and parents might not know what a fraternity or sorority is because that’s not typical at many universities abroad,” he said.

Whether parents are domestic or international, Sonn said they can expect to hear more from the Office of Parent Services, especially online.

Sonn listed outreach as one of his main goals and said he plans to use social media and emails more as the office adjusts their outreach efforts from the “Baby Boomer Generation to Generation X.”

“Things like Twitter and Facebook are used a lot more by this generation of parents,” Sonn said. “They’re a little bit more inclined to use technology.”

Sonn also said he hopes to increase communication via a parents’ listserv, which currently reaches about 17,000 families.

Other outreach to parents has been moved online in recent years through things like parent blogs, where GW parents can write advice to one another. Some of the blogs already posted cover topics like move-in experiences and guiding children through job hunts.

Current students are also making an effort to include and reach out to international parents.

Ishaba Haque, the Student Association’s director of international students, has been working to send more translated and explanatory materials to applicants and accepted students. She said she is focusing on translating information into languages common to GW applicants like Hindi and French.

“Parents play as big of a role in the process as students,” Haque said. “I want parents to feel OK that their kid is going so far away. So many parents don’t get to come to drop their child off and lots of parents don’t know what to do once their children get here.”

Haque is also creating a pamphlet to go into each applicants’ admissions materials next year. The pamphlets would include next steps for students and their families, like applying for a student visa and how to set up a bank account.

Haque also wants current international students to write handwritten notes to parents and students on their experiences.

“I’m not an adult telling you what to do,” Haque said. “I’m a student. I’m an international student.”

Catherine Moran contributed reporting.

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