Cooperating with the Foreign Student Advisor
By Martha Peterson, Former ISI staff
A positive working relationship with the foreign student advisor (FSA) enables us to minister and work more freely on campus and gives greater credibility with students. A positive working relationship will assure the FSA that you are there to support, assist, and cooperate with him/her – not to compete with him/her or to proselytize students.
- Understand and respect the FSA’s job responsibilities. Failure to do this will cause unnecessary misunderstanding.
- Make an appointment to meet the FSA at his/her office. Do not just drop by and expect to be seen. The FSA is usually very busy and his/her time is precious. Be well prepared during your appointment so that he/she will feel the time was well spent. Spend some time getting acquainted. Inquire into the concerns of the FSA and ask how you can be of assistance. Suggestions of things you might offer to do are listed under “Methods” below. If the FSA does not suggest ways you can serve, ask if you can leave your name as available to pick up someone at the airport, provide temporary housing, or one of the other suggestions according to your resources.
- Be sensitive to the FSA’s feelings of overall responsibility for the foreign students’ general welfare. Unfortunately, some FSA’s have had bad experiences with religious groups. Students have complained about being harassed or pressured to become Christians. Sometimes people treat international students as “museum pieces” to show off, projects, or objects to be converted, rather than as real human beings. FSA’s are understandably protective of the students and do not want them exposed to this kind of treatment. Cults are also active on campuses. Your understanding and sensitivity to these concerns, your acknowledgement of the problem, and your reassurances that you and your team will not be guilty of such behavior will go a long way to establishing trust with the FSA. This is why it is often better to work with the FSA initially as individuals rather than as a group – until your trustworthiness is known.
- Once you are known and have demonstrated your sincerity and trustworthiness, you may explain the Friendship Partner program at your church. Assure the FSA that your families are carefully trained and that proselytizing will not be a problem. Ask them to notify you if they hear of any complaints. Avoid religious jargon or ecclesiastical terminology. Assure the FSA that your families are there to extend friendship. Any sharing of Christian faith will come naturally as a result of interest shown by the student. It will never be forced on them. The relationship you have developed on a campus can be damaged permanently if this commitment is broken. If there is any complaint, assure the FSA that you will speak to the families involved immediately, making a full report to him/her. On one campus, a student complained about those involved with a Christian international house. Because of the trust already established, the FSA office recognized that it was not a legitimate complaint. If the relationship had not already been established, it could have caused great damage.
- Assure the FSA that, according to ISI’s Code of Ethics, you desire to support, assist, and cooperate with him/her in activities which seek to build moral character, academic excellence, and historical, cultural, and social understanding within the limitations of your resources. Know what that code contains and be prepared to show it to the FSA if he/she asks to see it.
- Assure the FSA that you follow the NAFSA Statement of Ethical Priniciples for the community section. Be familiar enough with it so as to be able to discuss it intelligently with him/her. This will increase your credibility.
- Membership in NAFSA, the KCISSS (Knowledge Community International Student and Scholar Services) division will not only give you credibility with the FSA, but also access to much helpful information regarding international students and their needs. Attending regional NAFSA conferences gives you exposure to other FSA’s and community volunteer people, and can also provide many new ideas. You might also wish to join the Christian Member Interest Group (Christian SIG).
Methods of Cooperating to Consider:
- Volunteer to be available to meet students at the airport, bus, or train.
- Volunteer your home to newly arrived international students until permanent housing can be located or until the dormitories open for the semester/quarter. This is usually from one night to a week.
- Volunteer to help students living off campus find housing, and to provide transportation and help for students with banking, supplies for apartment, etc.
- Offer to find host families (ISI’s term is Friendship Partners) when needed.
- Offer to help with the orientation program. Perhaps you can lead a tour of the city or give a talk relevant to international student needs (e.g. on personal budgets, where to shop, leasing an apartment, involvement with a friendship family, etc.)
- Volunteer assistance with English conversation classes and special programs for international wives, a forgotten minority.
- Offer to help the homesick, depressed, or lonely student to find the support of other students—American or international.
- Offer to help the destitute student find a place to stay. Offer a scholarship or temporary assistance, if available.
- Provide opportunities for international students to speak about their countries to local schools, civic clubs, and churches.
- If you are involved in an emergency situation with an international student (e.g. attempted suicide, emergency hospitalization, etc.) notify the foreign student advisor’s office as soon as possible.
Note: Some FSAs are hostile to and refuse to cooperate with any religious groups doing anything with international students on campus. There is no easy way to deal with this situation. A humble servant attitude and a desire to understand the reasons behind the opposition may help over a period of time. Be patient, prayerful, and careful so as not to give offense. Look for ways to serve so as to communicate your heart through actions. Show interest in international student social activities on campus. Sometimes negative attitudes can be changed by persevering graciousness. If you are not able to gain access to a university because of this situation, contact us for assistance.