International Assistant Program Promotes Friendship, Diversity

In 1980, one international student from Hong Kong was struggling to adjust to the culture of Boston College--and American university life in general--when he decided to begin the International Assistant Program, in the hopes of helping other students like himself transition more easily to BC. The result: a long-lasting initiative fostering a spirit of friendship and diversity that continues to thrive on campus today.

The International Assistant Program matches all incoming international students—freshmen, transfers, and exchange students alike—with an individual International Assistant (IA), a BC student who will welcome them to the university and help them transition into the competitive and, admittedly, not excessively diverse atmosphere that exists here on the Heights. Together, the IAs serve as a liaison between the international students and the rest of the BC population, helping to answer questions, serve as a cultural informant, introduce them to other American students, and just generally integrate them into the university culture.

The Gavel sat down with Adrienne Nussbaum, Director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, who provided insight into the IA program and its integral role in the college experience of both the international students and the IAs. Ms. Nussbaum has been running the IA program since 1987, and believes that it offers a mutually beneficial experience for all students involved.

“The program is definitely mutually rewarding,” said Nussbaum. “The international students have help with adjusting to BC life, and the IAs get to meet people from all over the world that they may never be able to otherwise. It’s like studying abroad without ever leaving BC."

Photo courtesy of Boston College International Assistant Program / Facebook

Photo courtesy of Boston College International Assistant Program / Facebook

According to Nussbaum, the program really leaves a profound and lasting impact on the International Assistants. “Some of the IAs have never had the opportunity to travel, but by meeting international students through the program, it sparks an interest within them to either study abroad, do a Fulbright Scholarship, or join the Peace Corps in the future,” said Nussbaum. “Alumni of the program really stay in touch with us, and often say that it was their most memorable experience at Boston College.”

The program often helps the IAs find their nice at BC as well, as it allows them to meet a new group of about 75 other students who share their values and visions. Isra Hussain, a current International Assistant and A&S ’17, definitely agrees that the program helped her find her place at BC.

“Coming to BC as a freshman, I didn’t feel fulfilled because I realized that the school just didn’t have the diversity I was looking for. The IA program was finally a way for me to meet different people and find that diversity,” she said.

Hussain feels that she has greatly benefited from the opportunity to meet a large and varied group of new people as an IA. “The program has been life-changing—it has really opened my eyes to diversity of people from different countries and cultures, but it has also helped me find diversity within the BC community, based on different interests of my peers and the other IAs,” she said. “I have definitely grown a lot, and I’ve become so excited about meeting new people and finding out what makes them diverse and unique.”

Students apply for the position of International Assistant during the spring semester, and are then matched with international students at the beginning of the summer. Before the fall semester begins, the IAs come back to school early for cross-cultural training, and to meet their international students at orientation.

Throughout the academic year, the Office of International Students and Scholars coordinates events for the IAs and international students, such as a homemade Thanksgiving dinner. In addition, the IAs themselves are constantly initiating trips, events, and activities with their students.

“The program fosters great relationships [between the IAs and the international students],” said Nussbaum. “The IAs sometimes visit their student while traveling abroad, even years after participating in the program.”

The International Assistant Program is currently recruiting IAs for next year, accepting applications until March 23. The application process consists of a written response as well as a 30-minute interview with two current IAs who are part of a selection committee. To be apply for the IA position, you do not have to speak a foreign language or have traveled; the only requirement is that you are able to commit to the program for the entire year, and that you have a sincere motivation to connect with students from other countries and help them to have a phenomenal experience at Boston College.

For more information and instructions on how to apply, please visit: http://www.bc.edu/offices/oiss/programs/ia.html.

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