Written by Nicole Stone/ Asst. News Director
Of the 3,261 students residing on campus, just 347 make up the population of international students representing countries from all regions of the world and making the University their home away from home.
Making residents feel at home at the University is the goal of the Housing and Residential Life team, according to Lynn Hendricks, director of Housing and Residential Life and Doctor of Adult Education, regardless of a student’s country of origin; but for international students who must go overseas especially, living on campus is the spearhead of a guided living experience.
“[Living on campus] initially gives them a home where people can care for them,” Hendricks said. “We have a team of people who want international students to really feel at home and cared for and to have exceptional resources to help them make the transition.”
Andrew Naylor, the associate director of Housing and Residential Life, agrees.
“These students are coming to the U.S., often for the first time, and living on campus provides them with a support network,” Naylor said. “If they were living in an off campus apartment, that support wouldn’t exist.”
One of the methods the housing department employs to alleviate the stress of transition from the shoulders of international students involves properly training faculty, staff and even resident advisors by campus organizations such as International Student Services and Global First Year, a transitional program that guides prospective international students through the application process and settling in to FIU’s community by providing them with specialized academic advising, assistance with the English language and even a college life coach.
This training is a critical component of the staff’s skills in dealing with each student’s concerns, especially when those concerns arise with a cultural or language aspect, according to Naylor.
“Particularly in student affairs, throughout our careers, we are exposed to how to work with international students… Getting that exposure is key to being a student affairs professional,” he said. “We care about every student and need to understand where that student is coming from.”
For resident advisor Himanshi Sharma, a sophomore psychology and organizational communications major as well as an international student from India, she feels that her training by Global First Year has allowed her to better understand what a fellow international student may want to see from her as their RA, such as finding ways around language barriers or respect for personal and cultural boundaries.
“In the country that they come from, they may not like to get touched so [you can’t] assume that if you’re hugging them that may be fine with them. They may get offended. So you have to be very much neutral with them. You cannot assume about someone’s culture,” she said.
In Sharma’s own experience as an international student, living on campus has served as a defining force in her personal development, as well as a tool by which she curbs her homesickness.
“Living on campus has broadened my areas to interact with as many people as possible, make friends from different cultures, who speak different languages,” she said. “I sometimes feel homesick, but if I’m involved on campus I won’t have too much time to even think about it.”
Despite the distractions that can be found on campus, homesickness is still a prevalent issue facing international student residents. According to Sharma, RA’s receive training to help students cope.
“You have to be constantly in touch with them so that they feel like they have someone to talk to,” she said.
Getting involved, she said, can help educate international students who feel like they’re struggling to acclimate to their new surroundings culturally or socially.
“Getting involved on campus teaches you everything,” she said. “It teaches you about the culture, it teaches you how they talk, how they interact with each other and it also builds you professionally,” she said.
Universities such as New York University aim to expose their domestic students to other cultures by actively globalizing roommates, according to their webpage detailing their housing assignment process. Naylor, who oversees roommate assignments and occupancy management, reports that when assigning rooms, FIU primarily looks at and weighs a student’s classification above all other factors in order to place a new student as a lot of returning students self-assign themselves to rooms.
Additionally, Naylor says there are no floors or dormitories exclusively for international students, so the student resident population is a mixed bag.
“Because of the sheer amount of international students, we try to disperse them amongst the population,” Naylor said. “As we continue to become a more global society, having the students experience meeting people from other parts of the world, whether they’re an international student or an American student, helps with that globalization process.”
Sometimes, an issue may arise where special housing modifications need to be made based on cultural needs. One such example Naylor provided was that of a dietary conflict resulting from the lack of kosher options at Fresh Food Company.
“We recognize that Fresh Food Co. – as good at the food is – it doesn’t have many of the international options that some of our international students are used to,” he said.
Per requests for accommodation, the office of Housing and Residential Life tries to group students with similar dietary inclinations in the same dormitories to meet their needs for a kosher kitchen, for example.
“It’s about being open with all the international students that are coming here and really taking a look at what their needs are when we are trying to place them, [such as] making sure that they’re living in a place where they can actually eat,” Naylor said.
Housing and Residential life perpetuates FIU’s mission to be “worlds ahead” through its efforts to welcome international students into the campus community, according to Hendricks.
“We want to create a positive learning community that embraces different cultures, different values and different beliefs, she said. “We want to create opportunities for engagement. We want to create possibilities for learning. Being worlds ahead is about exceeding expectations.”
Sharma urges international students to explore the new culture and world around them, reminding them that this is not done by keeping one’s head in a book, but rather, by experience.
“They left their family for one particular reason and that’s for their studies. But their parent’s didn’t send them away just to study alone. They sent them to explore the world and learn as many things as possible and how to deal with people,” she said. “You cannot do that just by reading books. You cannot do that by going to class alone… International students have an advantage just because they have left their comfort zone and in that, they can grow.”
Featured photo by Nicole Malanga/Panther Magazine