Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Foriegn policy


When Pedro Silva arrived at Miami International Airport from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on his way to FAU, he felt lost.

There was no one to greet him. In his broken English he had to ask around for directions to the Tri-Rail, only to become more perplexed when he was answered in Spanish instead of his native Portuguese.

After arriving at the Boca Tri-Rail station, the 23-year-old exchange student realized there were no buses to his hotel, so he had to take a cab to the Fairfield Inn.

“Shock” is the word Silva used to describe his first few days at FAU. Silva said he had no means of transportation and nowhere to live. Before he bought a bicycle, the biology major had to walk about 2.5 miles from his hotel to the Boca campus.
After spending more than $1,000 just on expenses related to documentation for his exchange program, Silva couldn’t afford to pay $90 a night on a hotel. So, scrambling to find an affordable place to live close to campus was his first order of business.He said he got little help from FAU in the search.

Exchange students like Silva, who are one type of international student, travel to the U.S. on their own in order to study abroad at FAU for a semester or two. Other international students come to the U.S. in order to receive a degree.

Silva is one of some 650 international students currently studying at FAU, and many have similar tales of woe about their initial welcome to the university.

Several international students said they felt abandoned when they first arrived in the U.S., and that they received little support from FAU’s Office of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS).  

“The university did not do much, but the people helped. People here are very helpful and very respectful,” said Ines Fonseca, an exchange student from Portugal.

Fonseca said that FAU only had one orientation session in the beginning of the semester and she did not learn much from it. In her first week of school, Fonseca said she was not aware of the parking regulations and got a $25 parking ticket for not having a decal.

Exchange students also said they felt neglected in registering for courses. When they had a chance to register, the classes they had requested to take before coming to the U.S. were already closed, so they had to choose other courses. One student was able to talk to the professor and get in the class, but others were not.

“We couldn’t choose from much because we had to take what was left. They tried to reserve [courses] for us, but the Americans come first, and then international students,” said Stefanie Faller, an exchange student from Germany.

International students also have difficulty with transportation.

“It’s impossible to get around without a car here. In Portugal, I could walk out of my apartment and see taxis everywhere, or take the metro or the bus,” said Fonseca.
Even if they could afford to rent a car, some students can’t because they are not old enough to rent a car in Florida.

In Portugal, the university’s outgoing exchange students assist incoming exchange students. Some of the things they do include picking them up at the airport and helping them get around campus on their first week of school, noted Fonseca.

“Here we felt a little abandoned,” said Fonseca, who was traveling with her friend Filipa Gereldes, another exchange student from Portugal. “We had to come by ourselves from the airport. There should have been someone to pick us up because it took us a long time to get here from the airport.”

Fonseca said they had to take the Tri-Rail from the airport and then had no way of getting to their residence.

They had to call their landlord to come pick them up from the Boca Tri-Rail station.

“He was our guardian angel on the first few days. We had no means of transportation, and we didn’t know where anything was. He took us grocery shopping on the first week and gave us a ride to the orientation meeting at FAU on the first day,” Fonseca recalled.
Many FAU international students also reported having problems finding a place to live. Some students could only start looking for accommodations after they arrived, so they had to bear the expense of staying in a hotel until they could find a place to live.

Fonseca and Gereldes tried to find off-campus housing online a couple of months before they came. But when they could not find anything, they tried to apply for campus housing and were told there were no rooms available. When they pleaded, saying, “But we are exchange students, we have no place to go, please save us,” they were directed by FAU’s Department of Housing to an off-campus housing Web site.

Other students who had difficulty finding housing and transportation said they were helped by neighbors, family or friends, but not by the university.While other international students had a hard time finding a place to live, Vanessa Wright, an exchange student from Brazil, said she did not have a problem because she stayed at her uncle’s house in West Palm Beach for the first week. He helped her find housing close to the campus. “I don’t know what I would have done without him,” she said.

ISSS has not been oblivious to the problems that international students face. The office has been serving FAU’s international students for more than 10 years, and recently has begun to incorporate more activities and services to enhance cultural exchange on campus and help students to adapt to the U.S.

During International Education Week in November, a reception was held at the Eleanor R. Baldwin House, the FAU president’s mansion, to welcome FAU’s exchange students. Interim President John Pritchettopened the function with a speech outlining the importance of international exchange and how much each country has to offer.

“Everyone has something to bring to the table. You are here to teach us,” he said to the international students.

The reception was one of the new initiatives by ISSS to welcome and foster interaction between international students and the FAU community.

Mihaela Metianu was hired a year ago as director of ISSS. She said, “Part of the reason I was hired was to make sure the office operates well from the regulatory side so we can focus on the fun things: integrating students in the FAU community more than before.”
Metianu is well acquainted with some of the difficulties that international students face in their adjustment to a new country and educational system. In addition to having more than 10 years of experience working with international students at the University of Miami, Florida International University and The Art Institute of Fort  Lauderdale, Metianu was once an international student herself. Her family emigrated from Romania in the early 1990s when she was in college.

“I wasn’t an international student on paper, so in a way it’s almost harder because you are not automatically sent to those offices, but I was for all other practical purposes. It took a while to get used to the educational system, to understand what a syllabus was and how it operated and to find my way around campus,” said Metianu.
Since Metianu has experienced first-hand the difficulties of adapting without the support of university services, she said, “We know that we need to do more.”

Some of the programs ISSS plans to launch this year are aimed at solving many of the challenges international students encounter.

One of the initiatives Metianu expects to implement this semester is the International Friends Program. It is common at other universities and is similar to a host-family program but does not involve living with another family.

The program consists of getting FAU faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university who are interested in becoming friends with international students involved in helping them when they arrive in the U.S., said Metianu.

This could be as big or small of an involvement as someone is comfortable with on both sides, Metianu noted. It could be, for example, inviting students for a meal or for the holidays, bringing them to campus events, picking them up at the airport, helping them to do shopping, or even offering them one or two days of housing until they get situated.
The office also plans to increase the orientation that international students receive when they arrive in the U.S., according to Metianu. This coming fall semester there will be more briefing sessions, and they will include information about health and well-being, safety on campus and facts about U.S. laws, such as the legal drinking age.

Another initiative of ISSS is aimed at getting FAU students involved in helping their fellow international students. The International Peer Mentor Program will give U.S. students an opportunity to host international students by helping them through orientation week and the Weeks of Welcome, or even taking them to a party or an event. They can then choose whether they want to continue the relationship after the first few weeks, said Metianu.

Although Metianu has been working in ISSS for a year, most of her time so far has been consumed with maintaining student records. She explained that the office has to report to the government on all international students, so it has to have complete and accurate data.

“We had to figure out what was going on to make ourselves more productive,” said Metianu. “It takes a while to assess what the needs are. You can’t come in on your first few months and implement five new programs, even though they are so needed, and there is still a lot to do. But I hope it’s a little bit easier for students this time around.”

Regardless of the difficulties that international students have faced, the overall experience has been constructive, and they are recommending that other students study abroad. 

“It’s an adventure,” said Christina Grimm, an exchange student from Germany. “If you study abroad, you have to take care of your problems on your own. You become a lot more self-confident.”

According to Stefanie Faller from Germany, “Americans should go to Europe just to see the difference. [FAU offers] a class on cross-cultural negotiations. There are some people that have never been to a foreign country. They probably should go.”

To learn more about FAU’s Office of International Student and Scholar Services or their programs, visit www.fau.edu/isss.


A professor’s perspective
“It’s a small world after all” and at Florida Atlantic University the world of foreign students is small indeed. Only 2 percent of FAU’s 28,000 students are from abroad. Perhaps because of the small numbers, there has been a history of neglect.

That’s not fair to the foreign students and it’s not fair to FAU.
From a humane perspective, you don’t leave persons who have traveled thousands of miles to a strange land stranded at airports and bus stations. Nor do you leave them to hunt alone for housing and shut them out of the courses they came so far to take.
But from a selfish perspective, you want to welcome them because they will enrich your experience of our “small world” and enhance the educational experience at FAU for everyone.

And from a pecuniary perspective, foreign students pay top euros and pesos. Does FAU want to plug that budget gap? Then put out the welcome mat for students from around the world.

That “small world” could be a “big world” if FAU makes the commitment.

Commentary by Robert J. Bailyn, visiting distinguished professor of journalism, School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, whose wife of 58 years was an international fellow in journalism at the University of Michigan from Sweden.


Editorial note

This article was submitted to the UP by a professor. It was written last semester as a class assignment by one of his students.
Over the course of her reporting for this article, Caroline Souto — a U.S. resident originally from Brazil — became friends with the international students she interviewed.
These students, all quoted here, have all since returned to their own countries, however. Exchange students generally only spend one semester at FAU. Souto told the UP that she therefore hopes her article will speak on their behalf. “They’re just visiting; they’re not citizens,” she said. “So, who is going to speak for them?”

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