Exploration conquers fear

By Alex Balletto – Copy Editor

Sarah Driscoll in her International Services office. Photo by Alex Balletto

Sarah Driscoll, Director of International Services, talks traveling during uncertain times and the International Services Department. The department deals with domestic students who want to spend a semester in a different country and with F1 international students studying in the US on a visa.

How do you work with students in preparation for and while they are abroad? 

With international students, the department deals with regulations with Homeland Security, works with the federal government when students wish to work, and helps students through cultural adjustments…Many of our students are Saudi and face Islamophobia daily.  I want them to feel welcome here because they may not be feeling that outside the parameters of the college…With Lasell abroad students, the department’s main goal is to ensure their security and safety, but to allow students to travel freely.

Besides Lasell’s international and study abroad programs, what other roles does your department play on campus?    

We engage students in international education, promote intercultural learning and events, and assist with shoulder-to-shoulder trips.  We are also always working to connect international and domestic students in a meaningful way, with the end goal of opening peoples’ eyes.

Have you ever worried about having so many students abroad under your supervision? 

We don’t want to be fear-mongering to the students hence why they can travel freely, but what worries me most is when there is an incident and I don’t know where students are at a certain time.  Risk management is always on our minds here. The numbers of international students have jumped over the past years.  The number of domestic study abroad students was at 66 in 2011…and in 2015, there were 98 Lasell students away.  Also growing, there are 105 undergraduate international students studying at Lasell, up from 18 in 2011.

Have the recent terror events fluctuated those numbers?

I noticed a difference after the Paris attacks when the number dropped from 98 to 92.  But I suspect the number will reach 100 this year.  I think mostly there are external forces keeping students from traveling; some is the parents, some is the fear-of-missing-out syndrome.

Why do students continue to wish to travel during uncertain times?

Students know a resume stands out with an internship abroad or just from living in a different country.  From a pre-professional standpoint, it is valuable in the market.  Students are also able to take courses that are not offered at Lasell, which allows for exploration of new interests…In the age of social media, students now see the fun their peers are having and resulting have more of a desire to travel.

Have President Trump’s stricter immigration policies changed the way your department functions? 

Yes – the scrutiny of visas has decreased the enrollment for the first time in several years.  In fact, several students were denied visas here.  This is a function of students not wanting to come to the US; they are opting for the UK, Canada or Australia.  Lasell is not alone; it’s nation-wide.  The F1 requires an interview, and if in the students show any intent of wishing to immigrate to the US there is less chance the student will be accepted.  It is important to prove ties to your home-country and to show you won’t stay afterward.

Do you notice a stricter scrutiny with specific student nationalities? 

Not really…mostly with countries having high volumes of people.  It’s not focused on middle-eastern countries because the administration is mainly focusing on limiting the numbers.  Bear in mind that Saudi Arabia is not included on the revised executive order.

Do you sense any other changes along the horizon that will affect your department?

A perfect example is the uncertainty of DACA.  As a college, we need to think about how we will address federal agents on our campus, and how we will protect students if it is written in federal law that they are subject to deportation.

What will be your department’s main priority during this continued time of uncertainty? 

It’s simple: to ensure that each student here and away has a safe and productive academic experience.

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