I remember the day my mother said her final goodbye to me in the Bogart parking lot before leaving to go back to Jamaica. I cried in fear of what was to come in a country I barely knew. I was no longer surrounded by familiar faces or helping hands — instead, I was surrounded by squirrels and trees. As an international student, I understood that I came to school abroad to gain a different experience than what I was accustomed to. However, I was constantly greeted with the question “Why are you here?”, followed by many microaggressive statements — My favorite being “Jamaica is like right off the coast of Africa, right?”
This made me start to question my place on this campus. Did I even belong here? Do I have a voice? Was this worth it? I found solace in understanding I was just here to add to the diversity on the campus and increase its statistics. I finally felt as though my presence at Ithaca College counted for something. However, my thoughts were not true. After being at Ithaca college for almost two years, I attended the All-College Gathering on campus where it really sunk in that international students are not even a part of the conversation in the school’s development. I witnessed Ithaca College’s President Shirley M. Collado speaking about where Ithaca College pulls its students from. She presented us with a map of the United States and said “Here are the regions we target our incoming students from.” Seeing that was traumatizing — my country was nowhere to be seen. I am certain that the other international students in the room felt the same.
The lack of consideration toward international students has never been so evident.
We are thrown into a whole different country with little to no direction on how to integrate into everyday life. Adjusting from being in a space where everyone is friendly and says good morning in passing to a place where I cannot get a smile most days is shocking. These little things can make one feel out of place and isolated.
There is a lack of resources on campus for international students. International students are pointed to the Office of International Programs. However, with a group of 114 international students, we are directed to one person for guidance and help. It is difficult for one person to make changes alone. There is power in multiple people speaking up about the issues we face versus one person advocating for us all. The school should try to learn the needs of international students and address them accordingly. I personally do not believe or feel as though much time has been given to improving the experience of international students. I suggest that there be more focus on retrieval of feedback and suggestions from international students. I think something as simple as sharing our opinions will allow us to take a big step in the right direction.
I personally have experienced times where I have considered transferring simply because I find it hard to maneuver life as an international student. I think a way for us to feel supported would be providing us with an opportunity to form relationships with international professors on campus. This is a great way for us to network and learn from people who have experience living and working in the U.S., specifically in Ithaca. In addition, we could utilize what we already have on campus and gain valuable relationships. Another suggestion would be providing us with a resource where we can connect with other international alumni. The alumni have been through life at Ithaca College and would be able to provide us with key insights on how to go about daily life. Personally, I know there might be financial difficulties for international students to travel back home during breaks, especially during shorter breaks. I think there could be a floor dedicated to housing international students during breaks, including between the fall and spring semesters. This would greatly decrease the financial burden that comes with traveling.
These are issues that must be addressed. It is time that international students have their voices heard as we have been ignored for far too long. I wish to see more readily available resources being provided for international students, which would result in more opportunities for us on Ithaca College’s campus.