Fourteen percent of undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania are international students. Admissions brochures point to this familiar statistic as proof of Penn’s “global engagement,” while the University’s website invites applicants to “meet the world.” Unfortunately, we fail to recognize the following statistic: Only 73.9 percent of international students at the University of Pennsylvania graduate within four years, according to 2008 data.
Although many admitted students have the opportunity to preview their lives at Penn through programs such as Quaker Days, international students, most of whom live oceans away from Philadelphia, are often unable to attend. Our first introduction to Penn is the International Student Orientation, which occurs on the first Thursday and Friday morning of New Student Orientation. However, many ISO events overlap with NSO events and are not financially covered by Penn.
Universities across the nation recognize that aiding international students’ transitions is one of their many institutional responsibilities, hence ISO is a common practice. However, our peer institutions take a much different approach. Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, Princeton and Stanford each offer four days of programming, while Dartmouth and Yale offer six days. Penn offers a day and a half.
International students are invited to arrive at Penn on Thursday, the official housing move-in day. They use this day to purchase necessities, move into their dorms, open bank accounts, recover from jet lag and go through mandatory immigration procedures. On Friday morning, students are rushed from a welcome breakfast to a welcome session to a one-hour social event that already overlaps with the first NSO events. Then ISO is over. As incoming freshmen who face long-distance traveling, culture shock and a new academic environment, amongst other challenges, the current ISO severely lacks the resources and support students need.
As the Assembly of International Students, we have a simple request: a one-day extension to ISO.
With an additional day, students can take more time to acclimate to Penn, and programming can be improved significantly. For example, small group sessions can be incorporated into the ISO schedule to address academic life at Penn and the resources that exist specifically for international students. In an environment where the University is pledging its commitment to international student support, last year’s situation, where there was simply not enough time to include Counseling and Psychological Services and Weingarten Learning Resources Center during ISO, raises many concerns.
On Feb. 8, the Undergraduate Assembly passed a resolution calling upon the administration to take the necessary steps in extending ISO by a day and pledging financial support for this extension. This request was also supported by the entire undergraduate delegation at the University Council on Jan. 28. While students across the University have acknowledged the lack of resources for international freshmen, the administration has yet to address this reality.
Administrators quote two main concerns: staffing and funding.
First, there is no reason why staffing for college houses and programming cannot be ready for an additional day. International Peers Helping Incoming New Students consist of upperclassmen who volunteer for ISO events, and they are already present on campus by Monday. Residential advisors and graduate associates are also already present, and many athletic and pre-orientation programs have their students move into college housing beginning as early as Monday that week.
Second, we hope that the University will pledge funding for an additional night of housing to such a large demographic of the student body. Following the UA’s financial pledge to support an ISO extension, it would be disheartening to see the University unresponsive to the needs of 14 percent of its undergraduates.
Although a one-day extension for ISO is clearly not the solution to all the challenges international undergraduates face, it is a critical first step. As many of our peer institutions also offer community space and more financial aid resources to international students, the request for an extended ISO, a proper transition to campus, is simple to satisfy. While it may seem early to be talking about ISO, planning is already underway, and the future incoming international students deserve to know about all the resources they need to succeed.
With one additional day, Penn will be one step closer to realizing its commitment to international students.
ALEXANDRE KLEIS and ELISE PI are a Engineering and Wharton, and College junior respectively. Their email addresses are firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. They are the President and Executive Vice President of the Assembly of International Students.
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