Challenges faced by international students

UVM’s international student population is growing and more resources will be required to meet their needs, but there are still struggles.

“I’ve heard Americans call [The Marsh-Austin-Tupper Dorms] the ‘China Wall,’” said sophomore Stas Litvinenka, an international student from Belarus.

About 25 percent of international students reported that they interact with American students the most through group projects, more than they do in residence halls and on-campus events, according to an OIE survey.

“Some American students don’t feel comfortable, they might feel that it’s offensive to speak to you,” sophomore Dave Chik said, an international student from China.

The relationships that do form mostly begin through class projects followed by residence halls and on-campus events, according to the survey.

Kim Howard, director of the OIE, said that solving social challenges requires growing confidence and understanding in both international and domestic students.

This may include increasing resources for international students.

Howard said her office added four full-time staff members and predicts they will increase advising hours to accommodate more students.

The OIE provides social and academic support for international students including advising, social outing trips and training for leaders on campus who want to help integrate international students in clubs and activities.

The office also oversees an international student mentorship group called catamount cultural connections which focuses on American and international student relationships. There are about 225 members in the group.

“Increase in staffing is, to my mind, is one of the most important things, as it relates to responsible growth to international students,” Howard said.

Howard hopes all international students “have the opportunity to make American friends and that we can help facilitate that.”

But Chik said there aren’t enough resources provided by the OIE.

Chik said he worked for UVM as an orientation leader for first-year international students. He and five other orientation leaders requested more financial support for student mentors and social programming.

“We requested for more international orientation leaders so the [student to leader] ratio could be less,” Chik said.

“I only received 130 bucks after tax for the whole week and I worked from Monday to Friday 9 to 4 every day,” Chik said. “If that was not enough even for the five of us, how could you even increase orientation leaders?”

According to a spring 2015 survey from the Office of International Education, 39 percent of international students surveyed said they have not formed meaningful friendships with Americans.

“We are shy and want to make friends with American students, but they are just shy,” said first-year international student Zhou Shihao.

According to the OIE, during the 2014-2015 academic year, the office met with 93 percent of UVM’s international students.

Around 95 percent of students reported that the OIE staff was helpful for their immigration needs, according to the survey.

Litvinenka said despite the challenges, his experience at UVM was welcoming and he has made both American and international friends.

“People are willing to help you,” he said

His advice to new international students is to explore downtown Burlington and try new restaurants with both international and American students.

“Even if you think you don’t like something, get rid of [that idea],” Litvinenka said. “Be open all the time for trying something new.”

Both international and American students need to abandon their fears of each other and take risks, Litvinenka said.

“Both should be open-minded,” Litvinenka said.

Howard said another solution is understanding another person from their perspective and then taking initiative.