Madison Polkowitz / Gavel Media

International Assistant Program Hits Record Number of International Students

There is a new record on campus. It is neither sports nor academic-related; instead, this record is sparking inspirational conversation across the Boston College community. As of this year, there are 145 more graduate and undergraduate international students at BC than ever before, setting a new record of 1,751 international students currently on campus. This record-breaking number has not been reached in one year alone, but has been increasing incrementally over the past 10 years.

So what is the cause of all the buzz over this year’s “record-breaking” number of international students? According to Adrienne Nussbaum, Director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, BC’s recently launched global engagement initiative has prompted conversation both about BC’s international role and the perspectives of international students.

This new initiative to expand BC global engagement, headed by the Global Engagement Committee—appointed by President Leahy last fall—includes internationalizing learning on campus and building global partnerships. The initiative will also be dedicating resources towards a strategy of improving international engagement, regarding both hosting international students and study abroad programs. According to Alberto Godenzi, the co-chair of the committee, “success in global engagement is a matter of investing resources, but more than that, of being intentional and far-sighted in how you craft that engagement.”

The goals of the Global Engagement Committee’s initiative are supported and furthered by the important work and services provided by BC's International Assistant (IA) Program. The IA program responds to the needs of incoming international students as well as foreign exchange students, who must adjust not only to life in America, but also to the fast-paced, established way of life on the BC campus.

The program matches every incoming international undergraduate student with an upperclassman who acts as their International Assistant. About two-thirds of IAs are Americans, while one-third are international students themselves. An IA behaves as a cultural informant, friend, supporter, and resource to international students. If international students have questions about registration or are confused by a cultural reference, their IA is there to help them navigate.

Additionally, IAs can bring international students back to their dorm or campus organizations, incorporating them into their social networks. Annette Szeto, CSOM '18, is a foreign exchange student from Australia and Hong Kong. Szeto said her IA is “such a sweet, fun-loving girl, and [she] endeavors to help in every way possible.”

The IA program attempts to provide international students the smoothest transition possible into life at BC and provides a great many benefits. Aside from encouraging international students to attend BC and become incorporated into its community, the IA program benefits the BC community as a whole by connecting international students to American students. This connection allows domestic students to meet people from all over the world and attain a more global perspective without having to leave campus.

Although the IA program strives to meet all the needs of international students, challenges inevitably still face them. These obstacles range from the weather to adjusting to a different educational system and level of academic workload to meeting and forming social groups. “It's hard becoming genuine friends with BC students. I understand it takes time and locals have established friendships but social circles tend to be quite clique-y unless you adapt and blend in well with the ‘right’ people who have the networks,” said Szeto.

IA Grace Danehy, CSON '18, also expressed this sentiment and said, “international students definitely struggle to meet Americans here at BC. They can join clubs and talk to people in classes, but they still feel intimidated by meeting new people.”

This challenge of making genuine connections with and relating to American students may stem from the issue that many domestic BC students are not internationalized and have not experienced many interactions with different cultures and people of those cultures.

“As an international student coming in, it seems like everyone at BC is from the Northeast and all have similar backgrounds: Most people went to a small private Catholic high school and haven’t really left America,” said IA and international student Helena Lintel, MCAS '20.“I also find that there's a lack of international students in general, so it's hard to find people that you can relate to and discuss experiences with.”

Although it is challenging for international students to interact and fully integrate into the American social scene here at BC, the IA program continues to focus on ways to bridge the gap between international and domestic students. Not only can international students learn from American students, but American students can gain a unique perspective from their international counterparts. These global perspectives inspire American students to step beyond the familiar boundaries of American life and become students of the world. “The IA program is a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world without having to go off-campus and, it has transformed the lives of many BC students,” said Director Nussbaum.

The number of lesser-traveled BC students might soon decrease, as the yearly record-breaking trend in the number of international students on campus leads to greater interactions and conversations. In order to broaden one's horizons and become a "citizen of the world," Director Nussbaum implores American students to "show interest and initiate genuine relationships with international students.”

Students interested in becoming international assistants through the IA program, can find applications at https://www.bc.edu/offices/oiss/programs/ia.html, which will be available from February 26 through March 28. Everyone is welcome to apply and speaking a foreign language is not required or necessary.

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