D. Louise Brown
Cultural, financial, and language barriers pose great challenges to students attending college in a foreign country. International students at LDS Business College now have a resource to help them face those challenges and make the necessary adjustments for a successful college experience.
The International Student Office opened in mid-August to assist the 166 international students who make up more than 14 percent of the student body population at LDS Business College, a comparatively high percentage. International Student Office Coordinator Melisa Valentin recognizes the need to provide those students with useful, basic information and assistance.
"Our main goal is to help students work through problems that international students commonly face," she said. "They need solid and consistent counseling, and answers to their problems. We're here to provide a complete resource for them in every way."
The office will provide assistance for students in several areas, including changes in visa classifications, changes in majors and programs, program extensions to accommodate a student's graduation schedule, student counseling regarding what to do after graduation, and an informative website. "One of our basic goals is to solve students problems in an effective and assertive way," Valentin said.
The culture shock alone is enough to dishearten many students, Valentin explained. The social structure in the United States is different from many countries, particularly when it comes to bureaucratic matters. Additionally, international students now face new requirements due to heightened restrictions resulting from last year's terrorist attacks.
The International Student Office will deal with required procedures established by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, including the newly revised Interim Student and Exchange Authentication System. In response to a mandate given by the Border Security Act, ISEAS was designed to share data electronically.
When a student applies to an INS-approved school, an eligibility certification is issued by that school, establishing acceptance and the date. That information is sent electronically to the U.S. Department of State. When the student goes to the closest U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a student visa, the embassy is now prohibited from processing that student visa until the electronic admissions certification from the school has been received.
The Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), another newly-implemented program, requires campuses to register changes in a student's address, telephone number, class schedule, withdrawals, absences, program involvement, and abrupt changes in grade-point averages. These and other requirements will keep Valentin busy.
"We're now responsible to know where these students are at all times. And although it seems like some doors have closed, others have opened," Valentin said. She believes the new restrictions will bring more skilled, motivated students to the United States.
Language differences are another obstacle. Something as simple as taking a test can be a nightmare for students struggling with English. But Valentin will encourage and monitor student progress through the College's remedial English courses.
International students are financially sponsored by a relative, friend, or bishop from their country. However, the International Student office can also help students find jobs related to their academic curriculum, giving them extra income and practical job training experience. "We're working to reduce the red tape that is currently a barrier to these students. By making their opportunities more flexible we can help them meet their financial obligations," Valentin said.
Valentin said, "If you take all of those challenges, then add in the religious, social and political aspects, you begin to understand the strange mix of challenges faced by international students."
Another goal is to inform students about the range of resources at the office. "We don't want them to come to us only when they have a big problem. We want them here any time. Their success will be our success; their failure will be our failure. We want to educate them that how they perform is a direct reflection of this office," she said.
Valentin, a native of Puerto Rico, considers herself a Latino. "I believe it's a benefit that the person directing this office is someone international students can relate to. I can comprehend the duality of their situation, with two cultures, two languages, two homes."
Having been through the process of gaining an education in another country, Valentin attests to the changes required of international students. "These students don't realize that when they come here, they make a decision to transform themselves into a new individual. They're going to experience who they were back home and who they will become here. They're a rough stone going through a polishing process."
The college was approved in 1957 by the INS to enroll international students. "Today's establishment of an office designed to meet the specific needs of international students is historic here," Valentin said.
Valentin also acknowledged the impact that international students have in the college. "The contribution they make as they share their cultural differences is invaluable. They have rich cultural experiences to teach. It's a very good exchange," she said.
October 28, 2001

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