Career Center, community senator seeking to improve resources for international students

International Community Senator Maureen Kalimba, who is trying to introduce more career resources for international students on campus, poses for a portrait in the Career Center in Dowling Hall on February 22, 2018. Ben Kim / The Tufts Daily

Tufts is known for emphasizing the theme of globalism with 15 percent of its undergraduate population consisting of international students representing over 60 different nations. However, these students often struggle to find job or internship opportunities in the United States due to their status as non-citizens.

Executive Director of the Career Center Gregory Victory and International Community Senator Maureen Kalimba Isimbi are currently working together to enhance the career resources that are available for international students. Kalimba Isimbi, a sophomore, said that this goal was part of her platform when running for the position of international community senator.

“I know a lot of international students who are really brilliant but still can’t find good internships because they can’t be funded for their OPT [Optional Practical Training] or CPT [Curricular Practical Training]. I really feel like I can at least try to do something about it,” she said.

According to the International Center’s website, OPT and CPT are two ways that international students on F-1 visas can receive employment authorization.

Sophomore Hajung Lee, an international student at Tufts, often goes back to her home country of South Korea for internships as she has experienced past difficulty in finding opportunities in the United States.

“There can be a lot of issues concerning visas and employers would probably prefer a citizen or permanent resident,” Lee told the Daily in an email.

Sophomore Lea Pensoy provides an alternative perspective as a dual citizen from the United Kingdom.

“The problem is not so much finding jobs, but rather finding jobs that leave time for me to travel home,” Pensoy told the Daily in an email. “It’s been hard to find jobs that could both be abroad and in the United States.”

Currently, the Career Center offers several online resources for international students, including pages containing job search advice as well as tips for job applications and interviews. Lee mentioned that she found these resources to be too general to be helpful for her particular concerns.

“There never seemed to be anything that would specifically pertain to my situation,” she said. “I also didn’t feel like both parties were very proactive in reaching out to one another in my case.”

On the other hand, Pensoy has gone to the Career Center to receive in-person advising on several occasions and found it to be helpful.

“They helped me with resumes, which was very useful because I came from a non-U.S. school system, so they helped with identifying what was worth putting on my resume and what was not applicable,” Pensoy said. “They also helped me find databases that allowed me to find potential internships back home because not everyone wants to be away from home for the summer.”

Beyond just having online resources be available, Victory noted that the Career Center is always open to engaging with international students about their specific concerns in person.

“We’ll get feedback [like] ‘You don’t do enough for international students’ and that sometimes comes from a student who has never come to see one of us … who has never worked with somebody on our team to help build a strategy for them or heard somebody say, ‘We’re going to support and coach you through this entire process. What you’re facing is really challenging. We want to make sure, always, that you land on your feet, no matter which path you end up taking,’” Victory said.

According to Victory, last summer the Career Center reached out to international students for feedback on career services. Victory has also tried to make himself available for students to give him feedback by attending two Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate meetings and organizing open forums.

In response to the criticism received that services offered by the Career Center are inadequate, Victory believes that there is a gap in communication between the center and the international student body.

“A huge percentage of the things they told us they would like us to offer, we already offer. So, there’s a disconnect in messaging. Sometimes, it comes down to what is the best way to message to students that there are these resources, there are these workshops, there are these programs,” he said. “If we can solve that, I think that helps us do a lot of things that have a much greater impact and will reach more students.”

One of the initiatives that Victory and Kalimba Isimbi have discussed is a LinkedIn network for international students to give them the opportunity to reach out to alumni working in their fields of interest. However, Victory noted the challenges to implementing such an idea.

“We’ve been talking really seriously with [the Office of] Alumni Relations, for the past eight or nine months, about adopting a mentoring platform,” Victory said. “The challenge about this is, it’s great, it’s an amazing tool, but how do you get the alums into it and then will the students actually use it?”

Kalimba Isimbi also mentioned the idea of an international students career fair, in collaboration with others schools near Tufts, like Harvard University or Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also shared that the Career Center is planning events that will highlight new career resources available to international students in a Feb. 20 post on the International Jumbos Facebook group.

Victory affirmed the Career Center’s desire to improve the job search process for international students and encourage more companies to hire international students.

“I think there are a lot of us who talk about this a ton in the career services world about ‘How do we educate employers better? How do we help them understand?’ We’re committed to figuring out ways to message to employers about the value of commitment to global understanding and intercultural fluency,” he said.

Victory added that career advisors face an uphill battle in supporting international students.

“Even in a good economy, it is challenging for an international student to find a job in the U.S. I think that’s unfortunate and I will go as far as to say, often, unfair. I think we would do a disservice if we weren’t talking to students,” he said.

Kalimba Isimbi is optimistic that improved career resources will significantly alleviate the mental and emotional stress that international students currently face in the job search.

“There are challenges we face — CPT or OPT, renewing this document or that document, even not going home for four years — [these are] things that really take mental strength,” she said. “I believe the projects I’m working on are going to do something for the international community, emotionally, mentally and professionally.”