Not so far from home

Story by Alix Le Touze

Photo by Taylor Nichols
Photo by Taylor Nichols

The International Programs at Whatcom Community College host more than 200 international students from more than 25 different countries every year.

Beth Robinson, the international student advisor said that some students are at Whatcom to improve their English and have a cultural experience, while others are at Whatcom for “a short-term English study,” a program that lasts one or two quarters focused on English learning.

There is also a program called the International High School Completion Program managed by Amy Shavelson. This program is for international students who want to earn a Washington state high school diploma and an associate’s degree at the same time, Shavelson said.

The last two programs are English preparation to get an associate’s degree and English preparation to transfer to a university.

“Students come here with different goals,” said Robinson. “It’s really varied.”

The first step Whatcom’s International Office takes each year is to travel the world recruiting students. Kelly Kester, associate director of International Programs attends education fairs along with Sandra Kimura, another associate director, in countries such as Taiwan, Indonesia and Hong Kong. “I help students understand [what it is like to live and study in the U.S.] before they come,” Kimura said. She then follows through with the second step.

“I am the initial contact before students arrive,” Kimura said. She assists the students by processing their applications to Whatcom. She sends them their immigration documents and letter of acceptance, gives them advice on how to apply for a student visa, and tells them what to do to prepare to come to Bellingham.

Kimura said she communicates with students before they come and answers their questions, which are mostly about Bellingham, the American education system and life in the U.S.

Housing Coordinator Lynette Berry and Jill Hough, the student housing associate, find the students a place to stay.

If they are under 18, they must live with a host family or live with family members in the U.S. but if they are 18 or older they can find a place on their own. The International Programs Office also leases pre-furnished apartments from Cascade Meadows Apartments, located near the southwest edge of Whatcom’s campus.

Berry said that some students decide to leave their host family to live on their own because they get used to the lifestyle in Bellingham, and they want more independence.

“Usually, students just want to live closer to the college,” Berry said. “It’s easier for them to take evening classes.”

Ribka Tanzil, a 19-year-old international student from Indonesia, said that she moved for this reason.

“If I could move their house in front of the Syre building, I would still live with my host family,” she said. It was the same case for Kharisma Zaka Utama from Indonesia, who moved into an apartment with a friend.

Finally, Robinson said everyone in the International Programs Office comes together for the students’ orientation. They put together an orientation week where they explain all the rules, regulations and expectations at Whatcom. Peer mentors are assigned and give new students a tour of Bellingham to show them the town.

Robinson is the student advisor and helps students with any problems they have. “On a given day, I can be helping students who stress because of spiders in their beds, and be advising students about their academic goals, or what kind of job they want,” she said. “[It is] a wide range of challenges.”

“Beth [Robinson] is really helpful because she gives me ideas about what classes I should take and [she helps me] to set up my schedule,” Tanzil said.

“Even though it’s already past her working hours, [Shavelson] will stay late to help me [with] arranging my class schedule,” said Leonard Wibisono, an international student from Indonesia.

Ulli Schraml, another associate director of International Programs, is in charge of organizing the orientation week and activities for international students. For the orientation week, he handles student testing, setting up schedules, reserving rooms, and recruiting peer mentors, he said. Schraml is also the advisor of the International Friendship Club, which organizes different trips and activities each quarter for American and international students to get together.

Schraml is also in charge of the Study Abroad Program, which sends about 10 to 12 American students to foreign countries every year to study. The Study Abroad Program offers different preselected destinations, but if students want to go elsewhere, Schraml will be available to help them find a college and get financial aid, he said.

“The monetary investment is big, but at the end it will pay off so much it is unbelievable,” he said. “[When you study abroad,] you learn so much about yourself, your own country and the country you visit that will be useful to you for the rest of your life.”

One thought on “Not so far from home

  1. Interesting –Keep writing about international students. Maybe do mini-profiles of two or three of them each issue. And/or if you have a good contact or can make one, ask a student if you can follow them through the quarter or year (include social activities, home life, as well as school) and write about her/him every issue. It could be fascinating!

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