By Amanda Bibbins
Simmons College’s Study Abroad Office is in the midst of broadening its focus from helping domestic students travel overseas, to helping the school’s 104 international students transition to life at Simmons. This change is one of many in a series of steps to make Simmons more global.
In order to rise to the occasion amidst these rapid changes, Director of International Programs and Study Abroad, Joe Stanley, joined forces in May with Xia He, Coordinator of International Programs and Study Abroad, to create a series of initiatives geared toward aiding interna-tional students, “transcend their international student clique.” The clique Stanley refers to is a divide between international students and students who originally hail from the U.S.
International students Melisa Ozdeniz and Zahra Dhanerawala spoke about their experiences in the Simmons community.
Melisa Ozdeniz, a sophomore who is originally from Turkey, believes these changes could not come soon enough. Ozdeniz says the transition from living in multiple countries before the U. S. was difficult, and not yet over. “When I first moved here I really did not feel that Simmons helped me transition to living in Boston,” Ozdeniz said in an interview. “Although there was an international student orientation, it really was not effective in providing any real help during my transition.”
Ozdeniz studies International Relations and volunteers at a local women’s shelter. She said, “I like volunteering because it gives me a connection that I don’t feel with other people in America. I also usually try to volunteer in places that have immigrants because it makes me feel more at home to be with people who understand the struggle of living in this country.”
Zahra Dhanerawala, a sophomore pre-med student at Simmons who spent most of her life in the United Arab Emirates, shares a similar outlook to Ozdeniz on the importance of building a community outside of Simmons. “I went to high school in New Jersey in a densely immigrant populated neighborhood,” Dhanerawala said, “so [Simmons] has definitely been different from my high school experience. Being in Boston and having access to organizations at other schools has helped a lot.”
When asked if she thought Simmons had done everything in its power to help her feel included, Ozdeniz replied, “I think Simmons has a lot more it could do to make the transition easier for international students.” During her interview, Ozdeniz made it clear that she had not been made aware of many of the changes the Study Abroad Office was making, or of the new international student services.
Dhanerawala said, “I think what a lot of international students hope for is not necessarily inclusion but more of an acceptance and acknowledgement of our issues. I am glad that the international student office is expanding […] and there are strides being made to make resources available to us.”
This seems to be the consensus among Ozdeniz, Dhanerawala and the staff at Study Abroad. More can be done to bring international students into the Simmons community so all students can learn from each other’s experiences. Stanley and He certainly have their work cut out for them.
These changes come after President Drinan’s and Provost Conboy’s announcements of the Simmons PLAN. Stanley cited the Simmons PLAN, the new first year curriculum, as Sim-mons’ most recent initiative to orient students to a more global perspective. Under the Simmons PLAN, incoming first-year students are required to take two consecutive semesters of a language, irrespective of previous language experience. Previously, students could “place out” of a language by being a native speaker or using Advanced Placement scores.
The office is beginning with relatively small changes, such as rearranging the furniture in the Study Abroad Office to make it feel more welcoming, and helping students get oriented with the MBTA and important local hotspots like Ben & Jerry’s. Their longer-term changes include expanding their services for international students and supporting the Multicultural International Student Organization, which pairs students with peer mentors. These services come at no expense to international students.
The office is also pushing to increase Simmons’ international student demographic, which places a high priority on making Simmons more appealing to students abroad.
For Simmons, being global does not only mean heightening its attractiveness to students abroad. While this shift may initially raise questions from study abroad students, the Study Abroad Office is not pulling back on its services for Study Abroad students; the office is operating at full functionality for its study abroad students. The office made it clear that being global also means facilitating students going abroad as well.