Caroline Roy ‘20
Et Cetera Editor
The international student community at Davidson has seen rapid changes in leadership, communication, and initiatives over the past few years.
“The international studies program has gone through a lot of shifting as of late, so I would say that there has sometimes been difficulty with communication,” Sian Lewis ‘20, a student from England said.
Director of the International Student Program Thomas Greene and International Student Advisor Susan Hatchett took over for Bea Cornett last year, and have since worked to improve the program’s relationship with international students on campus. Davidson enrolls “more than 163 students from 49 different countries,” according to an FAQ on the college’s website.
Green says that one of the program’s primary jobs is helping students maintain their student F-1 visas, as well as apply for additional work visas, during their time at Davidson.
“International students are on a visa that has certain legal requirements associated with it,” Greene said. “We have to give them the information that they need. If something goes sideways with their visa, it undermines their entire objective in the US.”
Greene and Hatchett are trained to work within the F-1 visa, which students acquire before coming to Davidson, but limitations within this visa can keep international students from getting professional work experience. In order to get jobs or internships outside of Davidson, students need to apply for a CPT (Curricular Practical Training) authorization. To get jobs after graduating, students must apply for an OPT (Optional Practical Training) authorization through the US government.
Eleni Tsitinidi ‘21, a student from Greece and the president of the Davidson International Association (DIA), says that while the new staff is working hard to improve and rebuild the program’s resources, they still have a long way to go.
“I think they should have students who are representatives, because people like me are picking up that role,” Tsitinidi said. “They need someone to inform students about things. That would be a way to bridge this gap.”
Tsitinidi said that while Greene and Hatchett have done a good job helping her with the visa process, she has not felt as supported when doing her taxes, something all international students are expected to figure out while far away from home. According to Tsitinidi, the program provides some information sessions about taxes, but falls short of providing active and accessible help.
“I want them to be more inquisitive about student experiences. Students have to go to them for help about the taxes, but they should be reaching out to us,” she commented.
Greene and Hatchett acknowledged that they had some gaps in their expertise when working with taxes and post-graduate visas. To help better prepare students, they are trying to work more with experts outside of the college.
“We’re trained and skilled with working with the F-1 visa, so we work primarily within that realm,” Greene said. To help students apply for work visas, he says that they “partner with an outside attorney who is an immigration attorney.”
Tsitinidi suggests that they use similar outside resources for helping students with tax issues, especially since last year’s taxes on the income students earned in the U.S. was unexpectedly high.
To help students better understand the visa process and access their other needs at Davidson, Greene and Hatchett said that they’re trying to take a “multi-pronged approach.” They keep updated information about visas and international-specific grant opportunities on their website and host several information sessions each semester. They held the first of these sessions last week, and Hatchett says that there will be at least four others before the end of the year.
Tsitinidi said that she attended an information session about the Alvarez Grant last year, but did not completely understand what she could and could not apply for and felt that she needed more of an outlet to express her concerns.
“It feels like I’m asking too much,” she said. “I want them to be more open to questions without being defensive. They need to understand that students are always complaining about something.”
Alumna Vita Dadoo ‘18, originally born in Mexico, had similar reflections about her time as an international student. She wished that the program had better prepared her for life after graduation, since international students are often only able to get temporary work visas.
“Though we received informational sessions regarding next steps our senior year, the urgency should have been communicated since we arrived on campus, as well as all of the additional limitations posed to our future,” she said.
Dadoo pointed out that things could be even more complicated in the future, since immigration backlogs under the Trump Administration could prevent students from getting the necessary visa extensions on time.
“The college, more generally speaking, should care about international student retention in the US,” she said. “It can do so by providing adequate guidance, information, and generating awareness amongst faculty and staff at large on how to help.”
Greene expressed that he wanted to see a larger connection between the international community and the rest of Davidson.
“We’re a small office, and the international student population is gradually increasing. We’d like to see more peer mentorship programs, not just for international students but for domestic students who are internationally minded,” Greene said.
Hatchett said that she wants to focus on growing and improving pre-existing programs like international-specific career counseling in the Career Center, as well as do a better job of spreading information.
“It’s a daunting task finding out how students actually communicate because it changes from year to year. What’s in yesterday is probably not in today. It’s a matter of keeping up with our ever changing media platforms,” she added.
In the meantime, Tsitinidi says that she will continue asking questions as the program leaders work to bring change to campus. “We need to use these resources to make this the best school for internationals. When you have that infrastructure, there’s no room for mistakes. Criticising the program is the best way to make progress.”