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World Wise

How does Swarthmore ease international students into campus—and American—life? Jennifer Marks-Gold, director of the International Student Center, says an in-depth knowledge of the regulations is a must in her role. But humor (and keeping a sewing kit in the office) helps, too!

What’s rewarding about your work?

Meeting and advising students from all over the world. It’s wonderful to see them arrive on campus: At first, many are nervous and overwhelmed, but I watch as they beautifully acclimate. This is especially true on the last night of orientation—karaoke night. The room fills with laughter as they sing and dance. Soon, they’ve developed a wonderful support group and discover that they have made friends for life!

How do you make connections?

Throughout the day, students will pop into my office. They have questions about visa expirations, and we may plan for a work-permission application. Others will ask me how to fix their broken glasses. I never know what a student may need, but I’ve developed a rapport, relationships, and trust with them so they can see me for just about anything. I care about their cultures and values, and I’m always looking for ways to support them at Swarthmore and beyond.

What are your challenges?

Working with international students is complicated and requires empathy and patience as well as detailed knowledge of immigration rules and regulations, including maintaining accurate records and interpreting federal regulations. Being proactive is important in keeping my students safe and legal in the U.S. I try to make my immigration workshops and emails interesting and informative. I use humor as often as I can.

What is a “typical” day?

My day begins with a cup of coffee while reading the International Student Advising Network Digest. I also catch up on the news to keep up with the changes that impact the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)/undocumented student population whom I advise. I use the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System to check alerts and student records. Once students are accepted and enrolled, I determine their eligibility in order to issue immigration documents necessary to obtain an F-1 student visa. We use the Form I-20—hence the name of Swarthmore’s international club!—which, along with other documents, allows them to apply for a student visa at their nearest embassy. I also support, advise, and monitor requirements for alumni who have been authorized to work in the U.S. for up to three years after graduation.

What travel experiences have most enriched you, personally?

One of my fondest memories was representing Swarthmore on a game show in China, where an alum was a consultant. I’ve attended the Fulbright Fair and visited the United World College in England and Italy. I also completed a certificate program in cultural diplomacy and international relations in Berlin and participated in the International Symposium on Cultural Diplomacy in Africa. Most recently, I was in Ireland for the National Academic Advising Association conference, and next year I’ll be going to Greece with Alumni College Abroad. These have been crucial in helping me be even more understanding of the students I work with.