International students get short end of stick

At a highly diverse Tier One research university, an efficient and helpful department dealing with international students is a must, along with international student organizations that aid such people in acclimating to Houston, the fourth most-populated city in the country, and their new school.

The International Students and Scholar Service Office is responsible for the diverse international student body on campus and is available to help. On the home page of its website, ISSSO’s mission statement includes responsibilities such as providing for the special needs of more than 4,000 international students, research scholars and foreign faculty who maintain non-immigrant status, keeping the University in compliance with federal law and regulation and promoting internationalization.

The UH International Student and Scholar Services Office serve thousands of students, some of which want ISSSO to do more. | Mahnoor Samana |The Daily Cougar

The UH International Student and Scholar Services Office serve thousands of students, some of which want ISSSO to do more. | Mahnoor Samana/The Daily Cougar

“We have a lot of programs,” says Jin Zhang, associate director of ISSSO. “We have our orientation program with an ‘Information Fair’ that helps the international students adjust. People from all over the city, such as Metro representatives, library and bookstore associates and other representatives from local organizations come and give the students information.”

When it comes to the students, ISSSO gets mixed reviews.

“The orientation was very helpful,” said Vishwanath Venkatesan, a computer science graduate. “One thing that could be done is to improve the ISSSO websites a bit more: something such as the administration putting notes about how they solved something on the webpage so that people don’t come to ask that and making it more accessible so that you don’t have to stand in line for an already answered question. There isn’t always time for grad students, so (minimizing the time it takes is key).”

ISSSO could add some online capabilities for answering simple questions so students don’t always have to come in and see them about everything, which is a hassle for students inundated with the work that goes into obtaining postgraduate degrees, such as Venkatesan.

Efficiency is key to the busy student; a key to increasing efficiency is cutting travel time. A car rental service could be utilized by ISSSO the same way that it is utilized by Calhoun Lofts with Hertz on Demand. The majority of international students arrive at the University without cars, and as there are three or four accessible cars through Hertz currently at student housing, ISSSO could do well in making the accessible cars well-known and readily available to international students, because the shuttle system is not enough. Bus travel times are usually 30 minutes to an hour apart and don’t always take you exactly where you want to go.

Another great feature of ISSSO is International Friendship Program, which helps students integrate.

“In the Friendship Program, you coordinate with a volunteer family once a month at a minimum to go to special events,” Zhang said. “It helps the international students with understanding American culture. ISSSO also provides a mentoring program.”

That’s great, but to some, the Friendship Program doesn’t go as far as a true sponsorship system.Youcef Barigou, an Algerian computer science graduate, spent part of his postgraduate work at Colorado State University and participated in its sponsorship program.

“At Colorado State University, they assign you a sponsor to show you around and help you get to know the city and campus,” Barigou said.

The University would do well, especially in a huge city, to make a program such as this, as many new students don’t know where to start, particularly if they miss orientation. The friendship program is good, but it would be invaluable to have a sponsor that has gone through the same things that the international student has.

The Center for Student Involvement provides a website which serves as a directory for organizations like GISO and makes it easier for international students to find the right organization.

ISSSO seemingly offers very helpful services, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for improvement.

A good suggestion for ISSSO would be to work on some sort of an automated program to complete processes or a chat room to answer questions such as they have for IT help and not have students who have concerns come into the office, where their business is broadcasted through the thin walls.

Jacob Patterson is a management information systems senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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