By: Becca Griesemer/Staff Writer
When Montle Siya returned to the U.S. to attend graduate school at FIU, she expected an experience just as welcoming as her undergrad experience at Johnson & Wales University.
Instead, during an international student focus group held on Nov. 19, Siya described her arrival as “an inhospitable, horrid ordeal.”
Siya came to Rhode Island from her home in Africa to attend Johnson and Wales as an undergrad, a student host from Kenya greeted her, received three nights complimentary stay, and had an overall hands-on, transition to an unfamiliar place.
Angeline Simbisai Mubau, director of international relations for the Student Government Council at Biscayne Bay Campus, hosted the focus group in order to get ideas and views on what students want changed and how they think the college can help.
Siya recounted her frustration.
“I felt like I was dropped in an ocean. I was crying like a baby,” Siya said to a room of about 25 students.
Before leaving Botswana, the mother of three felt comfortable about coming to the University because the application and administration process was efficient.
Her confidence and ease ended there.
The information packet Siya received was a disappointing array of expensive hotel rates and transportation options in which she’d also pay for out of pocket, she said.
Once Siya arrived in Miami and found transportation from the airport, the first question the driver asked, “Which campus are you going to?” The hospitality grad student wasn’t even aware the University had more than one campus.
Siya made the trip two days early so she’d have time to acclimate, but once at BBC, Housing told her she’d have to pay for those days in addition to her already-paid semester’s rent.
“After two days of flying from Africa, that’s the last thing you want,” Siya said.
Mubau, a hospitality student as well, related to Siya’s story as she reminisced about her arrival from Zimbabwe this past August.
Mubau was assigned a peer mentor at orientation, but never saw or heard from the mentor again. Left to fend for herself, she walked herself to a dirty dorm room and didn’t meet her resident adviser for a week.
“If we call ourselves FIU, the international part should be a priority,” Mubau said.
Siya agreed, and said the word “international” in “FIU” helped her choose it for graduate school.
Siya then told of another first hand international-student horror story.
In the middle of a semester, Siya got a call from the International Student and Scholar Services office and was informed she was “out of status,” which she translated to one word: deportation.
After many stressful calls, Siya discovered that someone in administration had cancelled a class she was registered for, thus adjusting her status.
Siya was also billed for the class again, and said she had a hard time getting someone to listen to her unique situation.
“The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” Siya said.
Nancy Hernandez, director of ISSS at BBC, said Siya was called without ISSS having solid information about her status because once the office gets an alert, they want the student to be informed immediately.
Christin ‘Cici’ Battle, SGC-BBC president, stressed multiple times if students have department problems, SGA will help.
“Come to SGA and we will point you in the right direction,” Battle said.
Participants also criticized the employment clause that limits them to only work on campus.
“In red, bold letters, applications might say: international students need not apply,” Siya said.
Mubau added the University requires international student employees to be on financial aid. “So if you’re not on financial aid you can’t work on campus, but you still can’t work off campus,” she said.
German-born Aveah Marks is not considered an international student because she moved to the U.S. when she was around 5-years-old, but attended the focus group to support her international colleagues.
“I want to be involved in the local-global change,” Marks said.
She suggested to the group the University should hold international/domestic team building events to ease the division between the two student types.
Marks said she is wary to approach foreign students, fearing they might not be responsive to her attempts to strike up a random conversation.
Even so, the hospitality senior bonded with the group as they found international and American students share some of the same issues.
Marks said her first experience at the University was lousy, and she was left crying because of frustrations with admissions, from what she dubs a “department communication problem.”
Battle said Human Resources is making plans to address the customer service issue with service trainings.
SGC-BBC is also organizing a program called “Secret Panther,” in which SGC-BBC members will give feedback on employee interactions, and rewards for exceptional service, Battle said.
Throughout the discussion was a collective reassurance the University is a great school minus these fundamental issues.
Marks complimented the University’s annual Food and Wine event, while another student said the school needs to play up its strength: diversity.
The focus group attendee gave an example of a school event in which she saw people dance to African music, Caribbean music, and even the cha-cha slide.
Other complaints were that carless international students still have to pay a parking fee, and their home country flag isn’t flown on campus.
Siya looked into having a Botswana flag flown, but was told that if she supplied the flag, then maybe someone could put it up.