Southeast Missouri State University student publication

SEMO provides a smooth transition for international students through campus resources

Wednesday, January 31, 2024
Executive Director of International Education and Services Kevin Timlin speaks to new international students during one of their orientation sessions. These sessions help prepare students for success on campus.
Photo submitted by assistant director of International Student Services Brooke DeArman

The feelings fluttering through new students' minds on their first day at SEMO can ignite excitement and inspiration while also creating intimidating thoughts. For international students, they not only go through that same wave of emotions but also experience culture shock, homesickness and an entirely new world all around them.

SEMO’s International Department staff understands how drastic and jarring a transition it can be to move halfway across the world on your own, so they have put in place resources that new international students can rely on when they find themselves in need.

International student counselor and advisor of the International Student Association Hailey Leonard is one of the first people at SEMO who new international students interact with.

Leonard helps newly applied international students obtain the correct paperwork needed to apply for a visa for the United States, which can be a big task, considering SEMO welcomed 300 new international students to its campus this semester alone.

The International Department puts together a pre-arrival orientation for all international students to go through online. Assistant director for International Student Services Brooke DeArman said this orientation provides new students with specific information for international students, such as maintaining legal status, health insurance, on- and off-campus housing resources, and transportation from airports to Cape Girardeau.

A three-day in-person orientation is provided the week before classes start so new international students can become comfortable with campus and begin meeting new people. DeArman said they take this time to help students set up bank accounts, do tuberculosis testing, turn in their transcripts and apply for any last minute classes.

DeArman said many local organizations and churches also play a hand in helping welcome international students by hosting dinners and events, including Chi Alpha Campus Ministry, Lighthouse Campus Ministry, Baptist Student Center and Lutheran Chapel of Hope.

As international student counselor, Leonard said she does her best to make sure all new students are prepared for this transition, but other organizations make important contributions as well.

“The Student Government on campus provided us with a bunch of clothes that were donated from students, and we set them out for the international students to be able to take, so there were a bunch of coats and sweaters, long sleeve shirts, and pajamas,” Leonard said.

DeArman said one of the hardest adjustments for international students is the weather, as it is much colder and rainier than most students are used to, and they often don’t pack necessary clothing, so support from the community is important.

President of the Bangladeshi Student Association, Aameir Alam has been an international student at SEMO since January 2021. He understands what it feels like to be in the shoes of incoming international students, so he helps make that transition less difficult for new students.

“So we help the new students before they even come here,” Alam said. “We build our social media, we have our Facebook, Instagram, and we have a messenger group where we invite all the new students who have got their visa.”

Alam encourages new Bangladeshi students to be as involved in SEMO events and the community as possible, as he sees it as a good way to meet new people.

“They will always be a part of the Bangladeshi Student Association, but engaging with other student associations would also help them in the long run,” Alam said.

There are many different aspects of unanticipated culture shock. Leonard said one specific shock for many international students coming to SEMO is the change in food.

“A lot of our students, especially our Muslim students, are only able to eat food that is Halal,” Leonard said. “Another big thing is uncooked vegetables. There's certain bacterias and things that we are used to and we just don't think about; however, when you study abroad, it will usually affect you pretty negatively if you aren't used to that bacteria quite yet.”

SEMO recently began providing Halal food options in towers, where all international students live on campus. If students have issues with dietary restrictions, they have access to a nutritionist on campus, where they can work together to make sure they are getting the food they need, Leonard said.

Newly arrived international students gather for their Welcome Dinner. This is a time for new students to mingle and establish friendships.
photo submitted by assistant director of International Student Services Brooke DeArman

Leonard and DeArman put together a list of resources and phone numbers to use when international students may find themselves in need.

DeArman said one of the resources provided for students includes access to 24/7 online counseling services from someone who speaks their native language and specializes in homesickness and other similar issues.

The International Department plans events and celebrations to try to make international students feel as at home as possible, including Carpe Diem, which will be celebrated Feb. 24, 6 to 9 p.m. in the Student Recreation Center.

“Coming to a new country is challenging, but with time I feel like it grows on you, and when you start living here you start being responsible,” Alam said. “You start doing your own new things, compared to what you used to do at home.”