Town Hall Helps International Students Navigate U.S. Higher Ed

The Voice of America and GW event provided an inside look at admissions, immigration, cultural and academic considerations international students face when trying to study in the United States.

VOA panel
Higher education experts included Doug Shaw (third from left), who emphasized the importance of international students and urged them to consider "fit" when looking at schools. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
May 04, 2017

International students from around the world on Wednesday had an opportunity to hear from higher education experts, who gave them a close-up look at the realities of applying for admission and studying at colleges and universities in the United States.

The “Education Destination: USA” event, hosted by Voice of America (VOA) and the George Washington University, was broadcast live and streamed internationally, and a studio audience as well as viewers from Iran to Eritrea submitted questions about not only how to land a coveted spot at an American university—but also how to make it through the visa process, polish their English language skills and adjust to a new culture and education system.

Several GW international students were featured in video interviews discussing their experiences and advice.

“GW and many other U.S. colleges and universities welcome international students,” said Doug Shaw, GW’s senior associate provost for international strategy, who participated on one of the event panels.

Dr. Shaw emphasized international students contribute importantly to the campus community, and the university works to build programming and provide robust resources to help them find a home at GW and foster relationships with their classmates and professors.

He also had some tips for students: Do your research and consider “fit” when applying to schools.

Students should not only do a deep dive into the schools’ websites but also consider the programs they’re interested in, look at the faculty who teach the classes and see how their interests align.

“It’s a great way to understand how you might fit in to a university community,” Dr. Shaw said.

Students, too, should be active in establishing themselves in their temporary home and put themselves forward—“get out there, shake hands with people and meet them,” Dr. Shaw said, explaining that D.C. in particular is a global hub for many outgoing, driven people.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some students’ questions centered on the uncertainty surrounding President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting travel from specific countries and whether it would affect students who are trying to come to the U.S. to study.

Panelists agreed their universities work actively to stay informed on any new policies and processes that may affect their students and do as much as possible to help them understand them. And many universities, including GW, are making clear they support educating students of all backgrounds, and they are a vital part of life on campus.

Few topics are more interesting, particularly for younger audiences, than education in the U.S., said VOA Director Amanda Bennett. Ms. Bennett added one of VOA’s key roles is connecting people in the U.S. with those around the world—something Wednesday’s event was able to do for anyone interested in American higher education.

In addition to Dr. Shaw, panelists included Karen Pabon, director, Slater International Center, Wellesley College; Raj Bhargava, instructor in entrepreneurship and design thinking, Stanford University; James Dorsett, director, Office for International Students and Scholars, Michigan State University; Sam Brown, director, international student and scholar services, Brigham Young University; Paul White, assistant dean for admissions, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and Bianca Schonberg, manager, international student services and study abroad, Houston Community College. VOA’s Sarah Zaman moderated the discussion.

For a full recap of panelists’ advice, watch the video of the event here.

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