Office helps international students at Eastern

Brooke Schwartz, News Editor

As the rest of Eastern takes a week to celebrate international education, one office on campus continues with business as usual, for celebrating international students is part of its daily job.

The Office of International Students and Scholars deals with foreign exchange students and study abroad programs, and it is headed by Assistant Dean Andy Kabasele.

Kabasele started at Eastern on Aug. 1, 2018 and has since implemented changes around attracting and keeping international students.

One of these changes includes a shift in how the office interacts with international students as they apply and get ready for their stay in Charleston.

Kabasele has started communicating with these students through an app called ‘WhatsApp’, a free messaging service used worldwide.

Before using ‘WhatsApp’, the office mainly used email to communicate with students, which had a 59-60 percent response rate.

Through ‘WhatsApp’, Kabasele and his office have seen an increase to a 99 percent response rate.

Kabasele said this change has helped students and staff in staying updated and connected.

“Instead of just focusing on email, we are using email as a foundation … however, we feel that with ‘WhatsApp’, (staff) can actually follow up. By sending an email, (students) still might not get it, but when we send a ‘WhatsApp’ they see it on their cellphones,” Kabasele said. “By connecting with them, by sending them a text message, it’s easier for them to respond.”

Kabasele has also started to retrain the staff in the office, as America’s policies have changed so much in the past couple of years.

“Prior to me, the staff were knowledgeable, however, … foreign policies and immigration (policies) …  are not constant; they are more dynamic; there are a lot of changes,” Kabasele said. “Those changes are really frequent, so the staff at Eastern Illinois in this office, they had difficulty staying (abreast) to those changes, so now I am training them to stay afloat with those changes so they can be accurate.”

He said it is important to be accurate when advising and helping individuals, especially with the increased scrutiny with which international students and their paperwork are now being examined.

Krishna Thomas, admissions specialist in the office, said this attention to detail is where some students become most tripped up.

“One of the key things that international students need to watch out for is their immigration status; more so in that they need to know when things expire, what rules to obey, that they’re always in full-time status, that they can talk to people in this office and just to make sure they’re on the up and up,” Thomas said.

To combat the difficulties surrounding immigration, Thomas and Kabasele said they host programs about immigration, needed paperwork and they send students reminders on different regulations.

Kabasele said the office has come to play an important role in getting international students through customs and to Eastern.

“On one side we’re dealing with the US government, and on the other side we’re dealing with the university, and then we deal with students. We have to make sure we follow all (federal) policies; with (university) policies you can mess up and be forgiven, but with governments, you pay for it,” he said. “Since 9/11 things have changed. (This office) has become more responsible than before; we have become a part of national security.”

Kabasele said he is also working on promoting studying abroad more by having an increased number of study abroad fairs and working to obtain global partnerships with corporations who may be interested in sponsoring students.

Kabasele said his office hopes to help international students through every stage of their college careers.

“(We want) not only to just admit (international students), but once they get here, to retain them and help them graduate,” he said.

Brooke Schwartz can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]