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January 22, 2001

Public Health helps
internationals acclimate

Elizabeth Kurylo is communications coordinator for the
Office of International Affairs (OIA).

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles about
international students and scholars at Emory. If you would like to
comment on this subject, please send e-mail to Kurylo at or call OIA at 404-727-7504.

When Sharri Siegmund started assisting international students and scholars 12 years ago, she did most of the work herself. In addition to arranging housing, she would “meet and greet” newcomers at the airport and make sure they had a good entry into the United States.

Today there are so many more internationals coming to the School of Public Health—68 enrolled this year—that Siegmund manages a team of a dozen students to do the work.

“Instead of individual students coming on their own from a country, what we’re seeing now is more agency-sponsored programs, and they send blocks of students to the University at one time,” said Siegmund, assistant director for academic programs.

Starting in July, her team looks for housing and makes arrangements to meet internationals at the airport. They also “shadow” the newcomers for a few days, taking them to the grocery store and generally helping them get settled. The team works for about four weeks at the beginning of the semester, but assistance to internationals lasts throughout the year.

The same is true throughout the University, as each school and department tries to accommodate its international visitors. Many services are provided through the office of International Students and Scholars Programs (ISSP), which offers general orientation sessions and other campuswide services, including immigration counseling.

But the needs vary from school to school, which is why public health offers additional services. At times, it can be challenging. Siegmund said it was hard to find students to work with incoming internationals last year, and she ended up doing a lot of it herself.

“I only had five helpers last year because the School of Public Health is now requiring a practicum and many students do that in the summer,” Siegmund said.

Housing was especially difficult because of the demolition of University Apartments, where many internationals used to live. “It was a major issue. By the time they arrived, affordable housing had been taken,” she said. Many lived in temporary housing at Villa International for up to eight weeks, waiting for something to become available.

Every year, housing and language are the biggest challenges for internationals, Siegmund said. Most do not have transportation, so they need an affordable apartment close to campus. And even though they have to pass an English exam before they enroll, that doesn’t mean they are fluent.

“Most are able to read English well, but listening and speaking is a problem,” Siegmund said. “A lot of them feel like they need a boost, and that is something Emory doesn’t offer.”

Although English classes are offered to internationals enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the courses are not generally available to internationals in other schools.
Siegmund said about 20 percent of internationals in the School of Public Health need help with English. Language barriers can effect a student’s self esteem and have a severe impact on his or her experience here.

Culture shock is another issue internationals face. The School of Public Health offers orientation sessions on culture shock and the range of emotions they may experience during their time at Emory.

“You go through phases. The “honeymoon” is the first phase—everything is wonderful and rosy,” Siegmund said. “Then, when the program starts, they might begin to experience language barriers and other frustrations. They discover that our education system is not the same. There are transportation issues, because most of them do not have cars. All of these things become barriers.”

These feelings can lead students to feel hostile and angry, she added. “They blame Emory; they blame their adviser; they blame the program,” she said. “If they allow that to continue, they go into isolation and withdrawal. They can get very depressed.”

Despite the obstacles, most internationals have a positive experience at Emory. “Most of the response is good. They feel like they’ve been helped and welcomed into the Emory community,” Siegmund said.

Their experience here “will do more to sell Emory” around the world than any marketing campaign, she said. “They will go home and talk about how wonderful the environment was.”


Back to Emory Report Jan. 22, 2001