International Assistants Show Students The Ropes Of BC, U.S. Life

Boston College’s International Assistant Program offers a unique experience, both for international students and international assistants. Founded in 1980, the program is designed to integrate international students both into life in the U.S. and life at BC.

Adrienne Nussbaum, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars, has led the program for about the past 30 years. The rest of the IA program consists of three assistants who work for the office, one coordinator who prepares for the program over the summer (for example, by matching up students and preparing visa documentation), around 18 IA coordinators, and the IAs. The program is organized into cluster groups, which consist of two IA coordinators and seven to eight IAs. These cluster groups help make division within the IA Program easier and simplify planning activities.

Each IA is matched with three to four international students. The match is made for the whole year, but could change depending on whether the students are going to be at BC for the whole year or just for one semester. IAs have an orientation in April and a training session in August, before the international students’ orientation. Through these programs, the IAs learn what international students go through in their adjustment to life in the U.S. and what resources they can utilize to help the new students.

According to Sharon Chang, LSOE ’15, an IA coordinator for Cluster Group 1, the role of IAs is “to prepare to bring international students into a new environment.”  IAs more or less go everywhere with their students, exploring the city and meeting two to three times a week for meals or to hang out.

Bea Lyrio, A&S ’14, was originally a mentee in the program as an international student from Brazil, and is now an IA coordinator for Cluster Group 6.  Lyrio describes adapting to the completely different culture as one of the biggest struggles in coming to the U.S. Adjusting to cultural norms and miscommunications can be challenging at first, making the IAs crucial in easing the transition to BC. “We don’t realize how much slang BC has,” Lyrio said-common phrases such as “the Plex,” “Lower,” and “the Mods” can be difficult for new students to pick up on if they haven’t been exposed to the BC culture before. Coming to BC also often requires an adjustment to the class structure and stricter attendance policy, especially compared to European schools, where most students don’t go to class often. Chang mentioned homesickness as another factor IAs help the international students deal with, especially for the students who will be here longer.

The IA program offers several events throughout the year for the students and assistants. Lyrio listed some formal events organized by the Office of International Students and Scholars, such as mass ticket purchases for Celtics and Red Sox games.  Chang described some of the within-program events, such as the Halloween social, Thanksgiving dinner, an Easter event, and good-bye events at the end of the fall and spring semesters.

Furthermore, each cluster group can organize whatever activities the students want to do, ranging from trips to the MFA, walking the Freedom Trail, or just grabbing dinner. As Lyrio described, the cluster groups can do whatever the students are interested in. “We just help it become an event,” Chang added.

Cluster groups often combine, and various members can tag along on other group’s events. The events are also open to people not in the program, as friends of members often tag along. “We’re not trying to divide them from American students,” Lyrio said. “We’re trying to incorporate them as much as possible.”

The IA Program application for the 2014-2015 school year is currently open.  When describing what they’re looking for in applicants, Chang and Lyrio say openness is important, as well as a willingness to meet and interact with people. Chang also mentions being able to reach out, which doesn’t necessarily mean being outgoing or an extrovert, but it simply means being willing to put oneself out there. Applicants should have “a genuine desire to help” as well as “curiosity about different cultures and being excited to learn,” Lyrio said.

The IAs, according to Chang, are “a diverse group of people” in order to accommodate for the majority of its students. “It’s fun to work with different IAs,” Lyrio said, because of the diversity. She and Chang agreed that the best part of the job was being able to meet international students and other IAs who could be from other friend groups.

Chang and Lyrio both emphasize how valuable it is to be able to say they have friends who come from different cultures. Chang described the program as being fulfilling, stating, “you could be the first American friends … the honor is kind of cool.”  Furthermore, as an IA one gets to show the international students something he or she loves, BC, and Boston. “You get to meet so many different people, it’s like you’re an international student yourself,” Chang said.

When asked for any last words on the program, Liang wanted to “reiterate how much fun it is.” Chang added, “It’s not us who makes it fun, it’s the international students.” Liang elaborated, saying the bonds you make are real, and that the experience has been “super-enriching.”

Any students applying must submit the application by March 24.  More information can be found on the OISS website.