When environmental engineering Ph.D. candidate and Jamaica-native Michael Ryan first set foot on Drexel’s campus, he was thankful to know someone in Philadelphia—his father—who could show him the ropes of University City.
Now, five years since first joining the Drexel community as a master’s student, Ryan hopes to provide similar comfort for fellow international students who might not have friends or relatives to help ease their transitions to life in the United States.
“When [international students] come in, we initially have no credit rating, which becomes an issue when it comes to finding a lease,” Ryan said. “Many don’t know how to find an apartment, where is a good area to live, with reasonable pricing that’s nice to live in. There are basic issues that are very difficult for those not from the U.S. arriving at Drexel.”
After witnessing some of his fellow international students experiencing some difficulty with basic logistical tasks, Ryan set out to establish the International Graduate Student Association (IGSA)—a tool for students to find their footing both before and after they arrive in the U.S.
Since the fall term in 2011, Ryan has been working with Drexel administrators—in particular, the association’s advisers Dr. Teck-Kah Lim, associate vice provost for graduate studies, and Adrienne Gigantino, assistant dean for international students and scholars services, to ease potential obstacles for incoming international students.
“[The IGSA] can continue to highlight these issues to Drexel. Our administrators have already been so supportive, and there are plans in place to provide even more resources,” Ryan said.
One such resource Ryan has been pursuing is a website for the IGSA, which would aim to disseminate international students’ concerns, giving prospective and accepted students exposure to students already in University City.
“If we can get international students here at Drexel to talk to prospective students from their home country—people who speak the same language, have the same culture and who can really communicate what it’s like—it will make things much easier,” he said.
Ryan said the group also hopes to be an entity where “students can express their concerns and know they will eventually reach the right ears.”
“That alone, knowing that their voices will be heard, is a huge help to international students,” he said.
Aside from providing resources for international students, the ISGA could enrich the overall educational experience for many, he added.
“Our organization could help more international students feel like it’s beneficial to be involved in Drexel activities, irrespective of cultural differences,” Ryan said. “That in itself could lead to more students participating in the full Drexel experience.”