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An International Love Affair: An Open Letter To Our Academic Advisers

Over the past handful of months, the coronavirus pandemic changed the academic plans of many Penn State students.

If things were normal, we would all be on campus taking classes in person. This semester, however, some students chose to come back, while others stayed home to take classes remotely.

For international Penn Staters, many different factors were taken into consideration with these decisions. The cost of housing both on campus and in State College, the need for students to take certain classes in-person in order to graduate on time, health conditions that might prevent students from being physically present at Penn State, and the ability to schedule a visa appointment with the U.S. embassies are just the beginning.

In the midst of it all, though, our academic advisers were there, patiently helping us make sure we all had plans in place to fulfill our credits and stay on track for graduation. Even from thousands of miles away, they tried their best to accommodate our needs during this pandemic.

To our academic advisers, in particular the ones in charge of us international students, this love letter goes out to you.

I am sorry for sending more than 10 emails this past month and making you meet with me three times in two weeks. Thank you for responding to each one of them guiding me to the best solution for my problems.

The dedication the academic advisers have to their job is second to none. Their job is not only to help students find classes that will fit their schedule and make sure that they are going to graduate in four years, but they also take into consideration our personal needs. 

As a student from Brazil, I was not able to return to campus this fall. The United States imposed a travel ban on Brazil since it had the second-highest number of cases, and they didn’t want people coming from Brazil to the U.S and possibly carrying the virus. 

A big part of me going to the United States for college was the experience of living abroad by myself, the connections I would make, and the quality of education I would get. It made no sense to me and my parents to take classes online from my room in Brazil paying full tuition. If that were the case, I might as well just go to a college in Brazil.

The idea of taking a leave of absence, however, scared me because I didn’t want to mess up my visa status as an international student. My adviser suggested that I did a temporary change of campus and stayed on World Campus for a semester. With that change, I would pay World Campus tuition for a semester and automatically be enrolled back at University Park in the spring.

The change of campus was a process I couldn’t have done without my adviser. After many phone calls and emails, he helped me make sure I was successfully enrolled on World Campus and had all classes I needed.

The transition back to University Park is not easy. For that, I needed in-person classes. Normally, my process for choosing classes is already a little bit complicated, since I am double-majoring in international politics and broadcast journalism. There is a lot of communication involved between the advisers in different colleges to make sure that I can still reach all my requirements and graduate on time.

In this case, there was the extra factor that I needed classes for both majors and at least half of them needed to be in person. The advisers for both my majors took their time to look at classes that would both fulfill my requirements and were in-person, allowing me to go back in the spring. 

This past week, they communicated with me and with each other to make sure I would be able to go back. They answered all the questions I had during the week and even comforted me when I thought we wouldn’t be able to make something work. We did, and I am extremely thankful for that.

I can only bring my perspective as an international student, but for my American friends, I’ve heard countless stories about the help and support they’ve received, too.

The situation we are in right now can be extremely stressful, especially since we can’t be sure when it’s going to be over. The validation we, as students, receive from our advisers can make our life at college a little bit easier. The effort our advisers put in every day to communicate with both campus staff and students, and the knowledge they have of the many situations students might be facing does not go unnoticed. 

Thank you, academic advisers, for all your work and effort. 

An International Penn Stater

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About the Author

Renata Daou

Renata is a junior majoring in International Politics and one of Onward State's contributors. She's from Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil and no, she doesn't live in the middle of the Amazon forest. She likes learning new languages, reading, writing, and talking about the one time she went bungee jumping.
Follow her on Twitter @renatadaou to see her rant in Portenglish or e-mail her at [email protected] for serious inquires.

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