Tuesday, 30 September 2014

International Student Welcome Week

For the past couple of years, I'd wanted to work with the International Student Welcome Team but was always away from Leeds in September. This year, I was available, and I'm so glad I did it--it was brilliant! The University of Leeds has the highest ranked "Welcome Experience" for international students in the UK. Now that I've been part of the Welcome Team staff, I can see why.
It's competitive, with 150 applicants for just 27 positions. All of us are well-trained, going through a full week of training for just two weeks of work. At the Information Point, we're very well-staffed--there are often four or five of us, which allows us to really help students on a one-on-one basis and it keeps wait times down, too. We provide so much support and information, from helping with online registration to recommending shops, pubs and restaurants.
This gig has been so interesting in terms of my research. I've had a glimpse of the new arrival experience for literally thousands of students. Students experiencing all of the different manifestations of culture shock--confusion, anger, nervous laughter, exhaustion, etc.--have come through the doors to our Information Point, and it's been our responsibility to answer their questions and calm their anxiety. I couldn't help but be excited for them and hope that they love it here as much as I do (although I can't really expect them to 'go native' like I did...I just hope they have a good time).
In some ways, this experience has reinforced my suspicion that the study abroad experience is the same for Fulbright and non-Fulbright alike. That is, all of the benefits of the "Fulbright experience" are also shared by those who study abroad outside of Fulbright auspices. What I would add, perhaps, is that Fulbrighters have more support, more handholding--their UK bank accounts are set up for them, for example, while we in the International Student Welcome Team give a special 30-minute talk explaining how to set up a UK bank account, and then they have to go take care of it themselves. Apart from the support of binational commissions/US embassies, the student experience may be largely the same.
I'm starting to suspect that, by the end of my career, I'll have developed some grand theory about study abroad that will probably just sound like everything everybody else has said--it's 'a life-changing experience.' 

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