The voice of and for USM students


The voice of and for USM students


The voice of and for USM students


International students at USM request more involvement from university


Amid a pandemic and uncertainty about the future, this has caused many universities across the country and the world to reassess the experience and services provided for their students. For many international students at The University of Southern Mississippi, a reassessment is needed. 

USM is home to over 450 international students from over 70 countries. Like their domestic counterparts, they are students who come to Hattiesburg to advance their educational pursuits and to become more well-rounded individuals.

 However, unique challenges are present to these students who come from cultures and settings that differ greatly from the United States. 

Oftentimes, international students at USM congregate together, which helps to explain why over 90% of international students live off-campus. 

Maegan Williams, a junior biochemistry major from Jamaica, shares an apartment with Eunice Oladeji, a medical doctor from Nigeria who is currently working on her master’s in public health. 

Maegan Williams and Eunice Oladeji

Williams and Oladeji lived on campus. However, due to a variety of reasons, they ended up moving off-campus. 

“Having to pray, ‘Lord, lead me to the right stand or stall where they will be serving something I can eat,’ and it wasn’t really fun. It wasn’t,” Oladeji said.

The transition to living off-campus is not always seamless, and students have suggestions as to how to improve the process. 

“I feel like USM should have some sort of agreement with realities close to the campus such that any USM student seeking accommodation only has to present the I-20 and that’s it.” Oladeji said.

Suzanne Omran is the director of International Student and Scholar Services at USM. The office, which is comprised of two staff members including Omran, told The Printz that they work with community partners to help provide apartment listings to international students. 

Suzanne Omran (Photo/Garret Grove)

“We have apartment listings that we try and keep up with regularly that we can send out to students who request that kind of information,” Omran said. 

A major community partner that ministers to international students is ‘i Friends’. Starting in 2006 originally as a bible study group, it helps to make settling into Hattiesburg and living as an international student easier. 

The organization has a Facebook group with over 1300 members. Inside the private Facebook group, students are able to communicate housing, transportation and other needs to members and community partners. 

Some of those community partners include student organizations on campus, like the Baptist Student Union and USM’s chapter of Wesley. 

“Having that community is really important for us because it makes you feel like you’re not a complete alien,” Williams said. 

Kathy Pope manages the Facebook page for i Friends. She explained that the organization transformed into one that ministers to international students after she and others saw the need.

“You know, the first time I went in a student apartment, I noticed they didn’t have a television. I thought, ‘Oh these poor students, they don’t have a television,’” Pope said. “I didn’t even realize that they didn’t have a bed to sleep on.”

Kamsi Ben-Chiobi is a senior computer engineering major from Nigeria. He is appreciative of the efforts of those involved with i Friends, but said that the school could do more.

“Kudos to the people who do i Friends but I feel like the school could really take some load off ‘em and put that on themselves, you know?” Chiobi said. 

Kamsi Ben-Chiobi (Photo/Garret Grove)

The sentiment is shared among other international students. 

“I Friends helps with getting a place to stay. They help with furniture. They help with rides through town. And I’m like, ‘Why isn’t the school doing something? Why does it have to be a group of people having to step in to do that?’ It’s quite disturbing.” Oladeji said. 

The Student Printz reached out to the University in order to get a better sense of what the University does for international students.

It reached out to James Coll, USM’s Chief Communication Officer. His office told us to reach out to Jennifer Lewis, the university’s Associate Director for Compliance and Ethics. 

Lewis directed The Printz to reach out to Serena Cantrell, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. In an email to The Printz, she indicated that her office works with the international student offices to inform them of the Eagle Nest Food Pantry’s hours of operation and offerings. 

However, Cantrell said that there are no direct initiatives geared toward international students in the food pantry. 

“At this time, we do not have any program geared solely to international students. We try to do all students,” Cantrell said in an email to The Printz. 

Students like Oladeji did not find this encouraging. 

“If that’s how they think they can help international students, I think they really need to sit down with international students and talk to them about the things they need,” Oladeji said.

Omran sees the need for the Office of International Student and Scholar Services to do more but notes that many of the accommodations provided by community organizations like i Friends go beyond the resources and capabilities of her office. 

“It’s something that my office realistically cannot do,” Omran said. “And I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, I’ve not seen an institution provide that level of service to international students.”

The Printz reached out to the international student service offices at Mississippi State University, The University of Mississippi and Jackson State University. 

Kei Mamiya, Associate Director of the Holmes Cultural Diversity Center at Mississippi State, responded to The Printz. 

Mamiya, a former international student himself, said there was a liaison program at MSU that matched current students with incoming international students to help with their transition onto the Starkville campus and area. 

“We work with those kinds of liaisons to provide information and then mostly advice for international students to prepare themselves coming here,” Mamiya said. 

Aside from this program, there appears to be no appreciable difference in offerings between MSU’s and USM’s respective offices.

 Mamiya also mentioned that outside organizations within the community ministered to their international students as well.

At the time of publication, the respective offices at Jackson State University and The University of Mississippi have not responded to The Printz’s multiple requests for comment. 

In relation to their academic pursuits and advancement, many international students find support lacking.

“If we’re contributing to the school’s GPA, if most of us are making Dean’s lists, presidents lists, the excellence is here. We traveled from a whole different country because we are excellent,” Williams said. “And I feel like the school does not recognize that sometimes. You feel like a number or a quota that they have to meet or something that they’re doing to get diversity.”

Chiobi feels that internships are harder to obtain for international students like himself. He cites many internships having eligibility requirements that exclude international students, as well as a lack of engagement from USM’s various schools and colleges to secure opportunities international students can pursue. 

“International students are involved with every college on this campus, and I feel like they’re all facing the same challenges that I’m facing,” Chiobi said. 

International students also note a parallel trend as it relates to scholarships. 

“You’re fighting to keep your grades up and your GPA up and the school doesn’t recognize it. It makes you feel like giving up because you’re just away from everything that could support you,” Williams said. “You’re away from the love of your country, of your family, you’re away from your food, you’re away from your culture, you’re literally put in just this place where you are the alien.”

Directors of both the USM Foundation and International Recruitment and Admissions office explained that international students are eligible for hundreds of scholarships. International students are considered non-resident/out-of-state students on USM scholarship applications. 

According to Petra Marlin, Director of International Recruitment and Admissions, there is only one scholarship in USM’s scholarship system that is specifically designated for international students: the “South or Central America Medical Scholarship Endowment.” 

However, moving from another country is more costly than moving from another state. Being able to stay at USM is more complicated than being able to pay tuition. 

Community groups like i Friends realize the financial burden which can make the experience for international students even more stressful. 

“It’s just super expensive for them. But they contribute financially to the university because they have to pay so much more,” Pope said. “So there really needs to be a lot of consideration given to them. Yeah, we can do better.”

The Printz also reached out to the scholarship offices at Mississippi State University, Jackson State University and the University of Mississippi. The scholarship office at UM said that international students can only apply for merit-based scholarships.  

As of the time of publication, the scholarship offices at MSU and JSU have not responded to The Printz. 

It is not realistic -or even possible- for any university to be able to address and resolve all problems and concerns made by any respective group in the student body. But for many, the current level of university engagement for international students requires an immediate reassessment.

“They might think that they’re doing the best they can,” Oladeji said. “But maybe they just need to hear it from the international students just like you’re doing that there actually could be more they could do.”

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