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Saturday, April 4, 2020

International students left without adviser for six months while hiring process drags on

“It’s a longer process than I like,” ISSS Director Richard Bruce said. “But it’s not unusual to take this long.” // Photo courtesy of Ricky Rath, The AS Review

By Kamiah Koch

International students have been left without an adviser for six months in the International Student and Scholar Services office. Former international student adviser Abigail Borchert left Western in May, said ISSS Director Richard Bruce, who is currently filling the adviser role.

The adviser position is responsible for managing visa documentation, updating records in the immigration system, as well as general academic advising and programming, Bruce said. Without the position filled, around 180 international students’ paperwork falls on his desk.

The absence of an adviser, especially the absence of Borchert, is evident for international students.

“I really don’t feel like our office is even trying, that’s what frustrates me the most,” international student Sabrina Chou said.

Chou is a fourth-year majoring in multidisciplinary studies. She said Borchert would go beyond her job requirements to help students.

“I could sense [Borchert’s] passion for international students,” Chou said.

Without an adviser, Chou said there has been a loss of communication between international students and the ISSS office.

If senior international student and music major Teresa Suehiro was to take a survey of the ISSS office now, she said she would rate it a four or five out of ten out of frustration.

“To be honest, I don’t feel as welcome going in [the ISSS office now],” Suehiro said.

Before Borchert left, Chou said she and three other international students came to the ISSS office and proposed setting up a peer mentorship program to help new international students integrate into the culture at Western. Chou said the program was intended to help support international students academically and emotionally and that Borchert was interested in starting it, but informed them that she would be leaving three weeks later.

An existing International Buddy Program at Western connects students from the U.S. with international students to support a smooth transition into Western. Chou said the peer mentor program would be experienced international students helping new international students.

“Language barriers might not be the biggest issue, the biggest issue is the culture difference,” Chou said. “And I am not talking about American versus international students, but more the culture within different schools.”

Chou explained that one of the hardest aspects as an international student is not coming to a new country, it’s transferring from a community college to a university, which she said is common. Chou said some international students have tried to go to Talk Time, a campus group which regularly meets to practice speaking English.  However, they have problems finding the support they need.

Bruce said the ISSS office is still interested in the program. However, with one person running the office, implementing a program like this would be challenging until another person is hired on.

“This kind of thing takes time to develop,” Bruce said. “We have to look at where to find the funding and such.”

The hiring process is underway, Bruce said. He said it takes time to write the job description and that involves Human Resources and the Equal Opportunity Office’s approval. Then the job gets posted, applications are reviewed, there is an interview process and references have to be checked. Then all of that has to get approved by HR again.

“It’s a longer process than I like,” Bruce said. “But it’s not unusual to take this long.”

Chou said at her previous community college, there were at least two international student advisers. She said students were assigned an adviser for the duration of their attendance and the advisers did more than documentation for the students.

Chou said she has been at Western for two years and never taken an ISSS survey evaluation. She said she was confused why students take course evaluations for classes but ISSS does not ask international students what can be improved.

“I would reach out,” Chou said. “Maybe a simple survey every quarter to get students feedback to let [ISSS] know what the office can do better.”


NOTE: In spring quarter of 2018, a conflict of interest prevented a story about this same issue from being published in the Western Front. This story covers a conflict involving resources for international students and the original reporter was an international student. The original reporter has since graduated from Western, so this story was rewritten by a different reporter with new interviews and sources.


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