Dickinson College Makes International Students Feel Welcome From a Distance

Amid a global pandemic and restrictive federal policies around both international travel and student visas, international students are facing a lot of anxiety.

Samantha Brandauer, Associate Provost and Executive Director at The Center for Global Study and Engagement at Dickinson College, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to discuss Dickinson’s “Study Abroad at Home” initiative and how she’s designing welcoming solutions for international students during this unwelcome year.

How international students are feeling in 2020

International students are grappling with anxiety. While we’ve seen the need for additional support over the last several years, the pandemic coupled with policies in the U.S. have sent more and more students to the wellness center for support.

We’re getting a lot of questions around visas and compliance issues. Many international students sense that if they don’t do what they need to do, they’ll be asked — or forced — to leave the country.

To support our international student population, it’s been all hands on deck for a while now.

Dickinson’s study abroad at home initiative

For everyone’s health and safety, Dickinson made the difficult decision over the summer to go all online for the fall semester. 

That decision created some challenges for the international population. Would they be able to come back to the U.S.? Did they want to?

The online approach meant first-year students couldn’t come back, leaving many students stuck at home.

Dickinson maintains a significant Chinese student population, and these learners couldn’t come to the U.S. The school’s leaders started to think about ways to leverage their international partnerships all over the world.

“We worked with some of our own partners and host institutions,” Samantha said, “such as Yonsei University in South Korea and University of East Anglia in England.”

The university also built study abroad programs at home with partner institutions. These programs accommodated international students in their home countries this semester. Dickinson operated this program in Beijing and Shanghai, China; Seoul, South Korea; Norwich, England; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

What study abroad looks like during COVID

Not every partner school has hosted in-person classes. Yonsei University went all online, but the University of East Anglia has taken a hybrid approach. Some students spend time in Norwich, England, and some time at home. In Beijing, Shanghai, and Ho Chi Minh City, Dickinson students attended in-person classes where they got to interact with their peers and instructors. 

“We’ve gotten wonderful sort of pictures of them together in activities in and outside of the classroom,” Samantha said, “things that they wouldn’t have been able to do, even on our own campus in the U.S.”

Some students reported that they weren’t expecting to take courses in their home countries, but they’ve appreciated getting to see some of the differences between their style and Dickinson’s U.S. style of education.

How to support international students during COVID

Since Dickinson maintains such a global campus, international students have become integral to Dickinson’s intercultural learning, diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. 

International students enrich the school’s classrooms and bring a distinctive array of benefits to the campus and the Carlisle community, including financial benefits. There’s been a lot of attention in the press about what international students contribute to the college towns where they live and what that means. 

“It’s been important for us to be innovative and think creatively about how we continue to work with our international student population,” Samantha said.

In times of so much ambiguity and anxiety, it can help to feel like Dickinson is home base, a place where students belong.

Next steps for supporting your international community

As always, communication is key.

Serving your international student population is a human-resource labor-intensive process. Visa compliance alone can eat up a lot of time. Try to do it without overwhelming your office staff. 

So ask yourself how you can streamline your communication while balancing efficiency with the support your students need. 

At Dickinson, creating an international community involved outreach and collaboration across campus. Residence life, student life, admissions, advisors, and the registrar’s office all got involved.

“One of the things that is happening right now in international education is that it’s a time of innovation and re-imagining,” Samantha said.  

What are we learning from this moment? What do we want to make sure we retain? What isn’t working? And how do we think about our international collaborations through study abroad?

Our answers to these questions will affect student recruitment, retention, and engagement in their host countries and in the U.S.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Samantha Brandauer of Dickinson College. To hear this episode and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.