By Theo Zittel
Imagine the thought that you are unable to communicate with someone else because of a language barrier. What will this entail for you and your family? Is it difficult for international students to converse with admins because English may not be their first language?
These questions led me to the scope of this investigative story. When I began my search for answers, the opportunity arose to speak with a friend who works in the admissions office here at Saint Mary’s. This was a great place to start, allowing me to open up the conversation surrounding the concern of options for ESL students and their parents. A current second-year standing History student, Isabella Ruiz, confirmed that two admins specifically work with the admissions office who speak Spanish fluently. Their names are Magaly Arias-Lobatos and Jenny Zuniga. The two admins are available to work with prospective students, their families, and current students of Saint Mary’s who may be ESL or feel more comfortable speaking Spanish in the Administrative offices. Isabella also assured that Karla Henriquez in the financial aid office also speaks fluent Spanish and is available to converse with these students if needed between various offices.
Following my discussion with Isabella, I was left with more questions concerning the experiences of international students who study here at Saint Mary’s. Therefore, I decided to reach out to Ashley Machado, the Director of International Student Services and International Student Advisor at the Center for International Programs (CIP) on campus, to discuss my investigation further. Ashley provided insightful information in response to my inquiries surrounding the different options available for international students at the college.
I was curious to know if international students ever experienced challenges with language barriers during their semesters at the college. She reported that they most certainly do, but it depends on the individual student. This is most often the case in their coursework and exchanges with others, whereas in other cases some international students may find it challenging to interpret what is said in the classroom by their professors or peers. The American curriculum, according to Ashley, can pose many challenges for those who may be ESL or enrolled in the international student program.
Many ESL and international students may make mistakes while speaking. While this may be frustrating and uncomfortable for anyone learning a foreign language, making mistakes is a learning experience for these students. If ESL or international students require assistance with challenges in communication or translation, the Student Engagement and Academic Success (SEAS) office, which is located on the first floor of Filippi Administrative Hall, is an option. English as a second language is one of the topics that they can assist ESL and international students with. In addition, the Tutorial and Academic Skills Center (TASC) and Center for Writing Across the Curriculum (CWAC) also assist with grammar if it is specifically asked for.
The Center for International Programs (CIP) is also available for international students to discuss the challenges caused by homesickness. As Ashley explained, the office tries to support students while studying at Saint Mary’s. Along with her colleagues, the CIP office allows students to visit if they need advice and support when posed with the hardship of being in a completely new environment outside of their own familiar culture.
Other opportunities for international students on campus are joining clubs and attending different activities on campus. In our conversation, Ashley told me that international students find community on campus with the Intercultural Center, student clubs, and athletics, stating that they feel integrated into the campus culture “wherever they can find their niche.”
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Ryan Ford '23,