By Grace Ferguson
It isn’t easy being an international student.
When you step foot on campus you’re facing a new culture, a new education system, and a new way of doing things. Not to mention, there are all kinds of paperwork and appointments you have to go through just to get into the country, and stay in it legally.
That’s why a group of students put together a new booklet: The Complete International Student Campus Survival Guide. Ariane Vigna, Jessica Zheng, and Daike Tsumagari wrote the guide to help orient international students and connect them to resources.
The guide offers advice on a range of topics, generally geared towards freshmen, like: what you need to open an American bank account, how American college traditions like Greek life work, and when to do mandatory check-ins with BU’s International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO).
There are also sections with more general advice, like how to succeed academically and get involved in clubs.
Vigna, one of the co-authors, is a junior from France. She said she and her co-authors wrote the guide to answer the kinds of questions they had when they first came to BU.
“I think what prompted this guide was also the idea that being a freshman right now must be really, really scary—much more for international students too, because there’s the added xenophobia, racism, and the pandemic,” Vigna said. “It’s a lot of pressure, I’m sure, for them. And so the idea was to provide support and let them know that they’re welcome here.”
Now that a pandemic has transformed college life, Vigna said the guide is even more important. When she started at BU, she relied on being immersed in the classroom to learn the norms of American education.
“For me, there’s a lot of times where I overheard explanations of how things worked, or I kind of picked up on cues,” Vigna said. “And I think that students doing classes from home, whether that’s on campus or abroad, it’s going to be kind of tough to adapt to classes the American way and the COVID way all at once.”
For Vigna, some of the most important information in the guide is in the section about getting internships and jobs. For example, it points out that different cultures have different expectations for what to say in a job interview—an American job interviewer might expect a different level of modesty than what an international student is used to in their home country.
“I think it’s important that American students don’t really have an edge over international students in terms of cultural norms,” Vigna said.
The guide also goes over the basics of work authorization. To get an off-campus job or internship, international students have to get permission from the ISSO, even if the opportunity is unpaid.
Zheng, a co-author from Canada, wishes she knew that as a freshman. The summer after her first year at BU, she got an unpaid internship without having a work authorization. She didn’t know she needed one.
“And then I checked in again with the ISSO, and they said ‘If you continue working, we will have to deport you,’” Zheng said. “And so that was kind of jarring, I think.”
This spring, Zheng started a Facebook group for international students at BU. She had questions about how other international students were handling the storage of their belongings—BU told students not to come back to campus during spring break, and the university only offered to ship student belongings within the U.S..
“I, instead of putting it on the class Facebook group, I was like ‘Wait, there has to be an official Facebook group for international students, exclusively,’” Zheng said. “And I looked it up, there wasn’t any, and so was like ‘To hell with it, I’m gonna make one.’”
Now, the group has over 600 members. Zheng said she saw a spike in members after Immigration and Customs Enforcement released restrictive regulations in July. The regulations, which have now been rescinded, would have made it illegal for international students to be in the U.S. if they were taking classes entirely online.
For now, the guide is available in the BU international students Facebook group. But the authors say they’re talking to the Dean of Students office and other departments and programs like BU Student Government to expand their distribution.
Zheng also said that she and her co-authors are thinking about translating the guide into different languages.