EducationUSA’s Pre-Departure Orientations conclude each year’s advising cycle. Intended to prepare students freshly enrolled in U.S. education programs for the initial experience, these orientations cover the catalogue of shared circumstances that the early period in a new environment presents.
With the pandemic postponing the start date for last year’s successful applicants the 2020 Pre-departure Orientation was held from December 7 to 10. Spearheaded by the Islamabad Advising Team, this virtual iteration had guest speakers from the U.S. Embassy and U.S. HEI’s who shared their advice and insights. The sessions, conducted on Zoom, were uploaded onto Facebook as a resource for any student who may have been unable to attend the live events.
Beginning with ‘Preparation and Arrival’, Day 1 had, Consular Officer in the U.S. Embassy, Phillip Chamberlain address the Visa Application Process and the ‘legalities of maintaining a student visa’, and Assistant Director of the Office of International Education, University of Wisconsin-Stout, Danielle Clarizio talk about the things to keep in mind when first arriving on campus.
Day one elaborated on the technical details of the F-1 status, illuminating the seemingly complex minutia of this vital first step to arriving in the U.S. Ms. Clarizio spelled out the host institutions’ role in creating and maintaining the international students’ community on campus and encouraged students’ take advantage of services dedicated to their well-being. Day one concluded with a comprehensive question and answer session.
Continuing the conversation of cultural adaptation and initial culture shock that had been touched on in the previous session, day two focused on this vital question with Education Transition Coach Aleka Bilan, a 27 year veteran of the field, helming the discussion. Ms. Bilan’s wealth of knowledge was ‘tailored for the audience’ in her thorough presentation. Touching on culturally specific elements of U.S. campuses, like gender pronouns, community building and the Professor-student relationship, Ms. Bilan sought to normalize the initial feelings of discomfort that are experienced by students thrust into new and unfamiliar environments. The combination of her experience and empathy led to a unique, evergreen session that will be a resource for the EdUSA advisors in perpetuity.
Day three focused on the Classroom Culture found on U.S. campuses. Joining the Islamabad staff were Laura Pacchioni and Sarah Noppen from Florida International University and Junnan Liao of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Ms. Noppen is a mainstay of the biannual South Asia Tour and thus a frequent collaborator with EducationUSA Pakistan. The presentation elaborated on the variety of terminology used to delineate the academic year, the process of major and minor concentration declaration and the standards for academic integrity that are expected on campuses. Once again, students’ were encouraged to use the resources made available to them at their destination HEI.
The Orientation program concluded with a panel of alumni and current Pakistani students in the U.S. giving attendees insight into the contemporary experience as well as the aspects of being an international student that sustain over time.
While the session’s primary intention was to increase students’ preparedness for their upcoming undertaking, the greatest takeaway from the host of speakers in the week was that the benefits of the International Student experience match, if not outweigh the costs of cultural adjustment and anxiety as the community is fostered, maintained and valued by their host institutions.
The EducationUSA Advising Centers hosted by the USEFP are part of a global network of around 450 Advising Centers in more than 170 countries across the world. Advisers assist students with 1) researching choices and preparing for standardized tests, 2) applying and securing admission, 3) financing education, 4) preparing for and securing the U.S. student visa, and 5) getting ready to go! To register for free EdUSA Advising services, register here.