Laura Castro Lindarte:GW should bridge the communication gap with international parents

It’s tough for parents to say goodbye to their kids each year. For most parents, there’s an empty feeling that comes with going home and facing the house without the person they’ve given all their time, energy and love to for 18 years. Events like Colonials Weekend allow parents to spend time with their child, but it’s still nothing compared to seeing them every single day.

For some parents though, these feelings are magnified. Their students aren’t just in another state – they’re in another country. For international parents, sending their children to a foreign country and navigating the language barrier with their new school is likely one of the scariest things they’ll ever do.

About 10 percent of students at GW are international students, and most of their parents probably feel this way. In recognition of that struggle, the University has recently announced that it will increase its communication with international parents.

It’s great to see GW taking extra steps to make the obviously difficult situation for parents of international students a bit easier. But the University’s improvements, like translating the website and connecting with parents through social media, aren’t enough. GW needs to find more ways to keep international parents involved and at ease.

I’m not an international student. Actually, I didn’t even separate from my parents to go to school because I still live with them in our house in Northern Virginia. But as a first-generation immigrant and a first-generation college student, I’ve noticed college is much different than what it would have been like in my home country of Colombia.

Even though we have lived in the United States for about 11 years, my parents find college here very confusing. The thought of 18-year-olds living on their own scares my parents. I know that if they still lived in Colombia, they would really appreciate more communication from the University. Don’t get me wrong – my parents usually understand the emails they get from GW, even though English is their second language. But their understanding is mostly due to the fact that they have lived here for so long, and other parents may not have this chance.

Still, my parents are often confused about how majors and minors work because in Colombia, students choose a major and stick to it. Students are given a schedule of their whole college career, complete with a list of which classes to take and when. For my parents, the freedom we have at GW to choose courses or switch majors is scary.

Financial aid was also extremely difficult for my family to navigate. My parents had no idea how to fill out financial aid forms, turn in the appropriate paperwork or figure out how to apply for loans. I ended up turning in some paperwork late because my parents couldn’t guide me.

That’s why GW needs language-specific liaisons for the parents of international students. These advisers, fluent in the languages most commonly spoken by international students at GW, could act as the go-between for parents and the University. They wouldn’t have to be experts on University processes. Instead, they could find answers to parents’ specific questions by getting in touch with the right departments and then relaying the answers to parents – a job that GW could even hire students fluent in other languages to do.

Whether through phone calls or emails, communicating with GW in the same language would put many parents more at ease. These liaisons would save international parents the time and difficulty of calling different offices or digging around various University web pages, all of which need to be individually translated.

Something as simple as a translated newsletter or magazine would comfort parents, too. GW already sends materials back home to parents, so it would make sense to send a translated version to those living in other countries. Parents could simply check off the language in which they prefer to receive their newsletters at the beginning of the year, and then could stay up to date with updates from the University.

As part of the strategic plan, GW hopes to double its international student population by 2020. So it makes sense for them to try creative ways to connect with international parents, too. It would prove to them that GW wants to keep lines of communication open, and reassure them that their children are being taken care of.

Parents of international students deserve to have the same opportunity to engage in the GW community that any other parent has. They should be given frequent and consistent information about what is new at GW in a way that is comprehensible to them, and shouldn’t have to rely on information from their children.

Laura Castro Lindarte, a freshman double-majoring in journalism and sociology, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.