Some say that working in international student affairs is a calling. I have personally met several professionals that had the opportunity to study or work abroad who feel compelled to help a new generation of students to take advantage of these exciting opportunities. I am no exception!
After studying in three different countries and working in higher education for a few years back home in Canada, I felt the need to reorient my career around international education. I was fortunate to secure a graduate assistantship at the Columbia College International Center while pursuing my master’s in educational leadership and policy analysis next door at the University of Missouri.
At first, I have to admit that it was quite overwhelming to work with international students as an international student myself. During orientation, many of them looked up to me for advice, when I only had been living in the United States for a couple of weeks. I often had the same questions and insecurities they had. But I also brought a breath of international experiences and an unshakable can-do attitude.
Working with international students as a foreigner myself afforded me an incredible opportunity to build and share powerful memories with a group of enthusiastic student.
They, too, had left everything behind to experience a new culture and meet their personal goals. We really were on the same level. What I lacked in practical knowledge about the Unites States, I made up for by my own journey and by what we shared. I did not have all the answers and I often had new questions, but we all learned together. I did live and study in three other countries before coming here, so I was able to truly understand what they were going through and offer advice based on my own personal experiences. When it came to specific questions about living in the United States, however, it was more difficult.
Most importantly, these students reminded me that even if we come from all across the world, we all have this unwavering ability to connect and build a strong community. We have so much more in common than not, which outsiders would not necessarily notice. Broadly, we all are:
– Strong individuals with a sense of adventure that embrace challenges and change in a positive way
– Curious and open to the world; we understand that there is not only one truth better than any other
– Achievers that value entrepreneurial and self-actualization opportunities.
I think it’s easy for student affairs professionals to assume that international students are under-prepared, have low English proficiency, or simply have a harder time adapting than local students. Part of our role in international affairs is to remind members of our communities what international students bring and how adventurous, curious and high-achieving they can be. So if you’re a foreigner working with international students, I urge you to embrace the challenge. Learn as much as you teach.
This post is part of our #SAinternational series. We will hear from #SApros who work in international student related services. We’ll also hear from those those who have had the fortunate opportunity to work overseas or have a global perspective to higher education. For more info, please see Kim Irland’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Alison Scheide on Study Abroad Programs