Former International Assistant Program participants (L-R) Diana Binet '03, Carmen Manrara í04 and Peter Bowley í04 catch up with one another at the recent 25th anniversary celebration for the program. (Photo by Frank Curran)
Welcoming the World to Boston College
International Assistants Program celebrates first 25 years
By Stephen Gawlik
Boston College last month celebrated an important milestone for a program that helps international students find a place in the University community, and makes the world that much of a smaller, friendlier place in the process.
About 120 alumni - many from out of state, one from Ecuador and others from Canada - returned to campus April 28 to help commemorate the 25th anniversary of the International Assistants Program at a banquet in the Yawkey Center.
The program matches incoming undergraduate international students with juniors and seniors, who help their foreign counterparts navigate the uncharted waters of BC and beyond, offering assistance in registering for class, navigating the MBTA or simply getting used to student life in the USA.
Besides serving as a guide for American culture and a pathfinder to the right resources, program organizers say the International Assistant (IA) can be a valuable friend.
"When this program began it was just a handful of friends united to help," said Assistant Dean Adrienne Nussbaum of the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS), which sponsors the IA program. "Today it's 65 students helping 150 freshmen transfer or international exchange students."
Some international students "would not have stayed at BC were not it for their IA," said Nussbaum, who has directed the program for 19 years.
Roshini Rajkumar '93 - one of nearly 800 students who have served as IAs - calls the International Assistants Program "the most significant extra-curricular thing I did at BC. I learned so much about people from other countries."
Rajkumar, a Minneapolis native who worked as a television news reporter after graduating from BC, said the IA experience taught her things that became fundamental to her chosen career.
"As a television news reporter, I have lived in a few different regions of the country and interviewed countless people from all backgrounds. I know I was open to hearing whatever their stories were partly because I'm a nonjudgmental person, but also because of the things the IA program instilled in my mind and spirit. Some of those things I can't even pinpoint because they're so natural to me now."
"I wish this is an experience that every student could have," said Vice President for Student Affairs Cheryl Presley, who called the program a "model" that has been emulated at other universities.
"The services of the IA program are more important now than ever," said Dean for Student Development Robert Sherwood, noting the heightened immigration and international travel security measures implemented since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
A booklet distributed at the banquet offered the names, contact information and other information about the 230 IA alums who responded to the invitation to attend the anniversary.
As a testament to the program and its worldwide reach, Nussbaum said she and her staff spent nearly a year trying to reach all of those students and invite them back to Boston College.
"There was a lot of Googling to get a lot of you here today," she told the IAs in attendance.