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The International Student Advisorís Office: helping students feel welcome

Memorial’s International Student Advisor’s Office (ISA) is on the right track for retaining international students. The simple, yet highly intensive plan does not involve numbers or clever strategies, rather genuine concern for the well-being and contentment levels of the international students attending Memorial.

“Some of the most important programs and services we offer are the ones that occur when international students first arrive,” explained Sonja Knutson, international student programmer, ISA. Using the free airport pick-up service as an example, she explained that immediate contact between a new student and a staff member or student from the ISA office helps to evoke an early positive feeling. “For this reason, we believe the welcome is really important. The first few months are extremely difficult as new students try to adapt. If we can help get them off to a positive start they will get to know our office and begin to come to us for help.”

ISA has introduced many new programs since 2003 including on-campus/off-campus housing assistance, emergency overnight accommodations for late night student arrivals, and academic, career related or personal counselling services. On a social scale, new initiatives include matching students with families on Thanksgiving, the international film club, and the friendship club where Canadians and international students are given the opportunity to learn about the other culture while enjoying activities together.

Ms. Knutson is also excited about the ISA’s newest initiative, the Buddy Program, which is similar to the friendship club, but requires a higher level of involvement. “This program is aimed at integrating Canadian students with international students for mutual benefits of cultural awareness, learning, and of course, friendship.” Students can expect to see this program in place for fall 2004 under its new title, the MUN Amigo club.

These new initiatives are in addition to an already outstanding array of programs and services offered by ISA. The tax program which assists students in filling out their income tax return is one of the most popular. Ms. Knutson says in March 2003, the program was accessed by more than 150 graduate and undergraduate students. Help is also provided for health insurance requirements, not to mention student authorization and visa requirements and ensuring all official documentation is in order, among countless other services. Ms. Knutson is proud of the way international students respond to Memorial’s ISA office. “It is not uncommon to hear praise from students once they have something to compare us to,” she explained. “Those who have gone on to continue their studies at other institutions have been amazed by the difference in the reception they have received.”


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