Through Meredith College’s Office of International Programs (OIP), students are offered various opportunities to study abroad, and international students have the opportunity to study at Meredith. As international students make their transition to Meredith, some of them face struggles regarding acceptance and their needs being met at the College. Two international students shared their experiences transitioning to Meredith with The Meredith Herald.
Javiera Brito, ‘24, said that because of COVID-19, transitioning to Meredith and “being an international student…this year was totally different from [what she] was expecting.” She continued, “Taking my fall semester online outside of the U.S. and getting used to not being in the same time zone was stressful.” Brito shared that she felt disconnected from the community and was unsure if she would get a response if she reached out for help from places like the Counseling Center.
Liz Yaros, Associate Director of International Programs, and Tomecca Sloane, Assistant Dean of Students, also spoke to The Herald. The OIP noted that everyone holds a responsibility to connect. They commented, “It is the responsibility of the Meredith community to ensure that our international students of all backgrounds feel included on campus.” They explained that their goal “is to help international students navigate the challenges they might face in their interactions with dominant cultures.” They stated, “The OIP team members strive to be fierce advocates and supporters of programming that celebrates students from international backgrounds. We encourage students to connect with one another and with clubs and student organizations that will continue to foster a sense of community, empowerment and belonging.”
In the spring, Brito thought face-to-face classes would ease some of her struggles from the previous semester. However, she said that she experienced some negative reactions to her status as an international student: “As a foreigner, people will react differently based on how you communicate, look and appear. I noticed how professors loved to get to know me since I come from a long way.” She clarified, “I experienced xenophobia and racism. Things were never said to my face, but you can tell by the way their faces change when they hear your accent. It is worse when your name has a particular pronunciation and most do not care to say it right.”
The OIP does have protocols in place for when incidents of racial injustice occur. They stated, “If the OIP is made aware of an incident of bias, racism, discrimination or harassment, etc., we follow college protocol for ensuring the safety and well-being of the student(s). In addition, we address the impact of the incident on the student and/or the community and seek appropriate remedies and/or resolutions.”
Another international student, Lauryn Fairclough, ‘24, has also had a difficult transition. Even before she got to the U.S., she said it was already stressful for her. “The medical procedures I had to get done are not necessary to do with U.K. schools, which meant it was not covered by the [National Health Service],” Fairclough said, “[and] having to do this cost me £80 [equivalent to $110].” Getting a visa was also a difficult process for Fairclough, as she had to travel five hours by train to London in order to get her visa.
When the OIP got involved in her transition, things did change. She explained, “[The] OIP was very helpful during the process of my move and getting my visa, especially since I had so many questions for them. This was nothing like anything I’ve ever done before.” Fairclough also said that during international students’ orientation, there was a lot of conversation about culture shock, but she found that the OIP did not “volunteer the information as ‘this is what you need to know’” but answered questions as students asked them.
Fairclough wants other students to know how it has been for international students during the pandemic. She said, “You have to have at least one in-person class in order to get your visa, but with COVID-19, that was really difficult for international students because some classes just weren’t in-person.” Some rules that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had in place were changed at the beginning of the pandemic, like the rule stating that international students had to take at least one in-person class to remain in the U.S., but the uncertainty over the rule remained for some time.
Fairclough said, “If you are in the U.S., you have the same privileges as an American student. However, if you return to your home country you lose a lot of privileges like [access to] counseling [due to licensure limits].” She also explained that transferring credits from an international university can be complicated. “You have to, in most cases, redo all your general education and start from scratch because what we do is different,” she said. “If you want credits to transfer over, you have to have an external evaluation done.” Even with the evaluation, students are not guaranteed to have all credits transfer.
The OIP said that as international students transition to Meredith, the OIP team, an International Student Advisor and the Office of the Dean of Students “continue ongoing check-ins and evaluations of students’ experiences.”
By Kaylee Haas, Staff Writer