Students come from all over the world to study in the United States. The desire to immerse in another culture, while also getting an education is appealing on many levels. It isn't always an easy landing, however, for international students when they get to a college outside of their home country. Many struggle with finding their "group," but also details as basic as lodging, shopping, transportation, and for some the language barrier, as well as understanding the subtleties of American academics and learning styles.
To continue the happy and welcome influx of international students across Maryland, several colleges have created programs and committees to help foreign students acclimate, as well as those that introduce American students to the experiences of other cultures that are growing in Baltimore and around the country.
The University of Baltimore School of Law (UB Law)
Catherine Moore, coordinator for international law programs at the Center for International and Comparative Law at UB Law, and herself an American that studied abroad to train as a lawyer, says that it's imperative that international students have the opportunities often afforded by an American education – particularly those that have permanently immigrated.
"These students were lawyers, judges, and academics in their home countries before relocating here. By enrolling in the LL.M. program, they are able to start their legal career in the United States, something that many thought they may never do again," says Moore.
The LL.M. is the Law of the United States (LOTUS) program at UB Law, a one-year degree that gives foreign trained lawyers the skills and knowledge they need to sit for the bar exam in several jurisdictions. This academic year, UB Law has 42 students enrolled in the program. Moore has observed an increase in Saudi Arabian students coming to study at UB Law, as well as a large number of students from Cameroon, Nigeria and South America.
Ultimately providing a job, and an outlet for a career previously established in another country, is perhaps the most obvious asset of the LOTUS program, but the cross-cultural implications are also very desirable. "Contracts are regularly negotiated across borders. More and more business is done outside the United States. Having international LL.M. students at UB helps educate our JD students as well. Many of our students come from countries where U.S. business relationships are growing and the ability to understand cultural differences is crucial when negotiating and working in a globalized world," says Moore.
Silvia Diaz de Moore, an attorney from Paraguay, who previously spent nine years in the Attorney General's office of Paraguay, is studying for her LL.M. at UB Law. "Cross-cultural understanding of law facilitates better cooperation between and among countries, whether it is combating transnational crime such as trafficking in persons, terrorism, and weapons trafficking, as well as trade, environmental protection, and other economic-related treaties," says Diaz de Moore.
Diaz de Moore used her time at UB Law to further her professional experience in the United States by volunteering as an interpreter for the Immigration Law Clinic, and as an intern for the Victim and Witness Division in the Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City. She is also very focused on supporting an Afro-Paraguayan association called the Saint Balthazar Group of Kamba Cua in Paraguay. This included crafting legislation to commemorate the historical and cultural contributions of Afro-Paraguayans.
The LOTUS program will not only provide Diaz de Moore an opportunity to sit for the bar in Maryland, but also the skills she acquires will help further her work improving educational and socioeconomic development opportunities for people from her home country and here in the United States. "The LL.M program for international students is the best place where we can learn, understand and analyze U.S Constitutional law and Maryland Law. Obtaining a U.S. law degree helps [you] understand U.S. legal history and assists in the pursuit of law-related careers in the United States and in the international fora," says Diaz de Moore.
Loyola University Maryland
Loyola approaches the issue of cultural understanding from various fronts – by both embracing the growing Latino population in the Baltimore area with programs like the Latino Americans: El Futuro de Baltimore series, supported through the Center for Innovation in Urban Education (CIUE) at Loyola, and focused on cultural understanding and "positive activism" (see sidebar), to the Office of International Student Services, which provides a myriad of services for the 125 international students that attend Loyola.
Mark Lewis, assistant professor of literacy education in the School of Education at Loyola, spearheaded the Latino Americans: El Futuro de Baltimore series, which is a collaboration between CIUE, and Enoch Pratt Free Library, and is funded through a grant from the American Library Association through the National Endowment of the Humanities. "Our primary goals include honoring the important contributions Latino Americans historically and currently have made to our society, and supporting the Baltimore Latino community," says Lewis.
This desire to better relate to the lives of minority communities extends to the students themselves. Megan Psyhojos, found that the Latino Americans series provided an additional layer of reflection about what students of all backgrounds need. "In my classes, we often talk about ELL (English Language Learner) students we might encounter in our future classrooms and how we can accommodate them. Seeing as English isn't their native language, it can be really isolating and discouraging for these students. Using literature is a great resource for exposing other students to this particular student's culture. It really allows the student to feel as if they are the expert on something and children love to help teach others about things they know. They become more involved, actively participating in class discussions, and really breaking through a barrier they might have previously thought as impossible, " says Psyhojos.
Helping all students to feel less alone culturally and otherwise is part of the mission of the Office of International Student Services (OISS) as well. Sunanda K. Bhatia, has been the director of OISS for 9 years, and helps Loyola's international students with everything from immigration issues to understanding local transportation.
'We do a four-day orientation prior to welcome weekend, which is a complement to regular orientation just for international students. Many are dealing with culture shock and cultural adjustments. OISS keeps an open dialogue with the students, so even after the initial orientation we'll have breakout sessions to address concerns that might come up," says Bhatia.
With 63 percent of Loyola students studying abroad, the exchange of cultures is built into the fabric of the Loyola experience. The International Student Orientation Committee (ISOC), is a group of students that help international students acclimate to school and their new country. They facilitate airport pick-ups, mentoring – students can also mentor with a faculty or staff member – and generally introduce them to American culture, like a trip to an Orioles game or Amish country in Lancaster, Pa. "U.S. academics, including class participation, writing style, citations and research, can sometimes also be an adjustment, as well as deciding if they are going to stay or go after graduation. We try and help them understand the visa and work permit process, but also generally better understand the life and culture of the area," says Bhatia.
University of Maryland
The act of seeking, sharing and using information, is called information behavior. It is a huge part of the assimilation process for international students, and the basis for a study by UMD doctoral candidate Chiyoung Oh called, "Information Behavior of International Students Settling in an Unfamiliar Geo-spatial Environment." It's also, co-authored by Oh's advisor, Brian S. Butler, Ph.D., professor and interim dean, UMD iSchool, and fellow doctoral student Myeong Lee.
Oh has studied information studies, psychology, human-computer interaction, and library science, all of which fueled his interest in how people ascertain information. His experiences as an international student at Chapel Hill and UMD, required him to be the seeker of information to adjust to his new environment.
"At the beginning of my master's study, various things such as finding places to live and daily living management without a car were difficult for me, and taking classes in English for the first time was very challenging as well. While going through that process, kind help and information given by the local people and experienced, senior students in the area were of great help to me. When I came back to the U.S. [after two years in Korea] to continue my study in a doctoral program at UMD, I needed to adjust to a new environment in College Park, and through various kinds of information sources, including new and existing co-national students, university websites and orientations, and the use of web and mobile technology, I was able to gather the information I needed to adjust to the local area and the graduate student life in College Park," says Oh.
He realized that his area of study, and his own life, were presenting an opportunity to further study how international students can access the tools they need to assimilate to their new environment. "When I learned about theories and models of information behavior, it seemed that new international students' information seeking behavior was not much studied and there is much room to explore,' says Oh.
Oh and Butler hope to see the results of the study provide further insights for institutions eager to meet the needs of this growing population of students, and develop programs that can make the transition a more informed and accessible one. "What we found was that there are a variety of social, technical, and action strategies that new students use to get the information they need to live and learn in a new environment. Those strategies change as they get acclimated. They are different if the student is in a common cultural group (vs. being from somewhere less common). And they vary based on gender and other individual characteristics. The long-term goal of the research is to identify services, technologies, and information that can be provided to help support individuals as they move to a new place (whether they are international students, refugees, or individuals who have moved to a new city)," says Butler.
The goal of all these programs – whether to assist and enlighten the American student, or provide help and tools for the international one – is to make learning and access to education, varied, open and culturally diverse. •