Coming from another country to America as an international student is a hard and overwhelming transition. Many times students experience culture shock, communication barriers and overpowering feelings of homesickness.
To make this transition smoother and more personalized, UT should introduce programs for international students modeled after First-Year Interest Groups but with more emphasis on social interaction instead of academics. That way, international students can be surrounded by classmates who have already gone through the transition or are currently going through it.
At first, many international students are excited to come to a new environment. However, those feelings of homesickness begin to settle in after a few weeks of being on campus.
"At times I felt that (UT) wasn't the place for me and it was too difficult for me to handle," said Shobhan Bhatia, a business sophomore from Delhi, India.
While UT and International Student and Scholar Services host many events at the beginning of the year like international orientation, they generally don't hold events after that.
"It's just a bunch of support in the beginning, and then you don't really hear from them," said Tina Abraham, a human dimensions of organizations sophomore from Bangalore, India. “There's not much sustained contact."
Rose also said that UT’s efforts to welcome international students to campus aren't personalized.
"You don't have someone within the (administration) specifically looking out for you, and that can be a little scary," Rose said.
While the consistent nature of First-Year Interest Groups provide benefits, they are overall more academics-oriented and often don’t take international students’ specific needs into account.
Moreover, FIGs don’t provide international students with opportunities to meet other international students. They could be the sole international student in their group.
International Student and Scholar Services has tried in the past to add a FIG specifically for international students, but unfortunately it didn't work out.
"We tried to get a FIG off the ground a couple of years ago, and there were a lot of requirements involved," said Margaret Y. Luévano, the interim director for International Student and Scholar Services. "We offered it, but a lot of students had conflicts with the classes and the class time that we had scheduled, so we weren't able to make it."
Although International Student and Scholar Services was unable to create traditional FIG courses for international students, Luévano said they are working on creating international student 360 Connection groups for the fall. 360 Connection groups are any small-group program for students. FIGs, for example, are a type of 360 Connection group.
"(The group) has a student mentor involved, so we are in the process of figuring that piece out because we want to make sure that there is that student interaction involved," Luévano said.
Again, 360 Connection groups tend to be more academics-focused and classlike. International students need to have a more flexible and more socially oriented program, and a 360 Connections class doesn’t fulfill that.
"If they emphasized the social aspect of it more with a specific focus on letting international students interact with other international students (and) relate to each other, that would be perfect honestly, " said Khalid AlManqur, a petroleum engineering junior from Saudi Arabia.
Even though the class structure of a traditional FIG isn't possible for many international students, the peer interaction still is.
Pritika Gopal, a biochemistry sophomore from Bangalore, India, said the point of new international student programs should be to provide international students with peers that they can talk and relate to.
She is absolutely right.
Even with the 360 Connections groups designed to help international students with the transition, UT must build a welcoming environment for international students. Having a program focused on the interaction between international students at UT will ensure that students have a relatable and reliable community.
International students deserve a home within such a big university, and providing a first-year peer group will help make their transition a little easier.
Musharrif is a business and psychology sophomore from Houston, Texas.