Prior to 1981, it was rare to see anyone from outside the United States on campus. However, the Office of International Student Affairs has been toiling for more than 25 years to change that.
Now, 351 students from 83 countries attend Northern Kentucky University during the spring 2008 semester. Canada, Nepal, India, Japan and Zimbabwe claim the highest number of students. However, the largest population of such students has come from the tiny country of Ghana, which has 32 students here.
According to the ISA Web site, the organization bears responsibility for all international student admissions and foreign credential evaluations for undergraduates. The ISA deals mainly with F-1 student visa holders, or those who plan to seek a degree for at least two years and up to four years.
Once an international student makes the decision to attend NKU, ISA provides student programming, assistance with issues relating to the U.S. such as citizenship and immigration services, and assistance regarding the university and America’s English proficiency requirements.
International students regularly encounter Adam Widanski, the ISA’s program coordinator, when they join NKU. Widanski prides himself and the ISA on the open door policy.
“We, at the ISA, have a policy that allows the students to come to us with any issue, whether it be big or small, and we help them,” said Widanski. “We find help if we cannot do it ourselves.”
Widanski finds this policy very important when it comes to the international students and their incorporation into the American culture. The students face many obstacles, Widanski says, such as cultural shocks, welfare adjustments, time-change adjustments and getting used to the American educational system. The main welfare adjustment comes from the cost of higher education in the United States, which poses a daunting challenge for the new student.
Naoki Mitsu, a senior RTV major from Japan has been here since 2006. He has faced many obstacles ranging from learning the language to understanding the American classroom schedule.
“In my experience, language is the biggest problem for me. Sometimes, I can’t even speak my opinion in class because I don’t understand what they are saying,” he said. “It’s the same way for exams and assignmentsMitsu explained that the schedule in the United States is a lot different than that of Japan.
“In Japan, you have class once a week, not two or three times a week. It’s very busy for me,” he says.
Widanski and the ISA try to solve the issues and the hardships that international students face by creating programs like the International Friendship Program, the Buddy Program, International Potluck Dinners and International Coffee Hours.
The Buddy Program is one that pairs up a new student to campus with one that has been here for a while in hopes that they will become friends and adjust to the new life together.
The International Potluck Dinners and International Coffee Hours allow not only an immense amount of cultural food and drink to be enjoyed, but also puts everyone including those not involved in the program together so they may enjoy the company of each other and teach one another the culture that they know and the life that they lead.
“The Coffee Hours are a great education outlet,” said Widanski. “They are learning more about the multicultural experience that everyone is in involved in.”