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Caught in the Middle International Students, Career Services

Caught in the Middle International Students, Career Services

EACE Blog contribution by Alfreda James, Assistant Director, Graduate Student and Post Doc Career Services at Stony Brook University 

Do American universities simultaneously welcome and curse the presence of international students? And what does this back-handed behavior have to do with career services professionals? The United States attracts 21% of all students studying abroad. And the number of international students in colleges/universities has increased by 49% since the year 2000.

Career services offices are at the intersection between employer demand for the skills nearly embodied by international students from STEM programs and the students’ desire for integration into American culture.

Our offices have become a portal where international students learn about American corporate culture and confront issues of assimilation and language. Career services staff have not replaced faculty as instructors of academic discipline specific knowledge. And we’re certainly not responsible for translational use of academically-related content. But we are responsible for educating and preparing students for the job market.  And in in our efforts to educate, prepare, and connect to employers we run smack into cultural perceptions, misunderstanding.

The faces in our offices represent nearly every continent. Names have meanings and double-meanings. Some students eagerly change their given names and slip from Ji to Jeanie to increase communication with Americans. While other students enjoy watching Americans trip over unfamiliar consonant blends. Yet most campus resources for international students focus on instruction or even social support through clubs and organizations.  What about the multi-tasking career services staff? We run how-to-prepare workshops and talking about job search strategies. But we do so with social development theory and practice from a decidedly western perspective.

We need to understand the variety of individual dreams and cultural expectations of the students in our offices.  International students may now include individuals who:

  • Complete secondary school in the US to assimilate to American culture and improve language skills before entering the university
  • Hold dual nationality and can pursue more employment options
  • Need help managing differences between cultural norms of job searches in home country and United States
  • Enrolled in an academic program based on family and national government expectations
  • Desire greater interaction with domestic students but encounter subtle hostility from within the communities surrounding the university

Perhaps our task is to acknowledge the conflicting messages international students receive between the welcome offered at orientation and the uncertainly attached to global job markets.

Alfreda S. James, PhD

Alfreda S. James, PhD

Alfreda S. James, PhD specializes in counseling graduate students about career options. She advises graduate students as well as undergraduates pursuing careers in public policy, government, and science. Dr. James is currently a member of the IDP Task Force and the WISE Admissions Committee. Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) provides four year scholarships to undergraduates pursing degrees in STEM disciplines. She served two terms as an evaluator for the Turner Graduate Fellowship Program. The Turner Fellowship provides financial support to underrepresented graduate students. Dr. James is also a member of the university’s HealthierU strategic planning committee, responsible for promoting wellness and health activities to over 14,000 employees.


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