A record influx of international college students brings increased risks and liabilities to U.S. colleges and universities.
But student affairs professionals can mitigate those risks and liabilities and ensure a safer, more welcoming experience for international students, according to Jim Hutton, chief security officer at On Call International, a travel risk management company.
You can start by emailing introductory materials before they arrive on campus to establish a trusted channel of communication. Then, reinforce the message through orientation and ongoing programming. Present the messaging as a “What to expect and what’s different here versus where you came from,” he said. “The worst thing you can do is present it as a list of dos and don’ts,” he said.
Hutton highlighted four key challenges along with practical solutions you can implement:
- Challenge: Transportation. Adjustment and safety issues frequently arise for international students hailing from countries that have different speed limits, traffic volumes, and rules of the road. Insurance liability issues arise when international students drive or ride in vehicles with other students, especially student groups, clubs, organizations or teams. Public transit systems can also be intimidating.
Challenge: Medical. Emotional/mental health and reproductive/sexual health issues can carry more stigma for international students, who might also feel culturally intimidated. Health insurance can also become complicated. International students also have to learn where to go for routine versus emergency medical needs.
- Build informal partnerships with local, reputable car insurance firms who can provide drivers’ education programs or enhanced safety training for inexperienced drivers and auto insurance.
- Offer education to help international students navigate public transit and learn the rules of the road.
- Encourage students to take a paced approach when driving and using public transit.
- Provide navigation systems, highway maps and other transportation information in their native language.
- Refer students to reliable car/taxi services.
Challenge: Safety. Some international students hail from countries that have more permissive drug and alcohol norms and laws. Others might have to become accustomed to living in areas that have more crime than their home country. And they usually don’t know when and where it’s safe to go.
- Ensure you and your staff members and international students know whether and what type of health insurance is required by the host country or institution.
- Know what insurance plans can provide international students with coverage, such as institutional, governmental, the student’s family insurance, or providers like On Call.
- Educate international students about determining when medical situations qualify as a routine request or an emergency and how and where to access appropriate types and levels of medical services.
- Identify bilingual health staff and/or contract with translation services for crisis hotlines and health centers. Even if international students are fluent in English, translation will increase comfort in stressful situations.
Challenge: Logistics. Landlords have been known to take advantage of international students in terms of pricing and maintenance. International students also probably won’t know how to turn on utilities, how to find jobs and internships, or where to go during holidays and breaks.
- Promote personal safety, including how to secure possessions and the use of fire protection/sprinklers/alarms.
- Encourage international students to use the buddy system when going out.
- Explain U.S. laws and campus policies and penalties related to drug and alcohol use, including driving under the influence.
- Advise international students how to find safe off-campus housing.
- Offer self-defense and safety awareness classes at your institution or through partnerships with local agencies.
- Familiarize students with blue light poles, security response apps and campus escorts.
- Identify bilingual campus security staff and/or contract with translation services.
- Provide emergency preparedness training (such as for earthquakes, hurricanes and floods).
- Distribute wallet-sized cards and digital resources containing key information for finding help, such as 911 versus 411 and how to access highway patrol in your state.
- Connect international students with affinity groups that match their religious or ethnic preferences, as well as sports teams and clubs.
- Offer host family arrangements with local residents willing to house international students during holidays and breaks.
- Suggest that international students look into social media, crowdsourcing and blogs tailored to helping international students find tips for adapting to campus life, and help them see they’re not alone in their struggles.
For more information, go to http://www.oncallinternational.com.