International recruitment of prospective students has to be done entirely online this semester due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and college safety procedures.
“September and October traditionally would be the time during which we are travelling for the fall,” said Senior Assistant Director of Admissions & Coordinator of International Recruitment Christopher Segur. “I was on the road for about eight weeks last September and October traveling to high schools to meet with counselors and students and going to different educational agencies and organizations. (I did) a lot of in-person networking and a handful of events working with members of the United States and different embassies as well.”
Segur notes that this semester is very different than he is accustomed to because, normally, he would have been abroad traveling to different countries.
“Last year, I travelled to 13 countries in September and October,” Segur said. “During the summer and again in November, there are two big conferences that I would typically attend as well. March also brings a shorter two-and-a-half to three week trip as well to visit countries where we receive a lot of applications from.”
The entire recruitment process for international students has become remote. Despite this, Segur said the transition was not as drastic for him.
“I do a lot of online events working with students so for me, the transition into the virtual world was not much of a transition; it has just meant more time (online),” Segur said. “It is certainly disappointing (being fully virtual) because I am a people person. I love meeting with counselors and students and I think Allegheny is a school where we take a very personalized approach — we want to get to know students and we want to know what they are all about. For us, a lot of (the admissions process) is about connecting.”
International student Hanna Nguyen, ’23, recalls her connection with the admissions counselors at Allegheny as having been very influential in her decision to enroll at the college.
“I submitted my application at the end of January and ten days later, the international admissions counselor, (Segur), reached out to me,” Nguyen said. “He is the fastest counselor I have ever seen in my life. Allegheny was the first school that I received an acceptance letter from … He was very accessible; I was able to reach him any time that I had any questions. It was very easy to reach him, which was different from other schools where I had to wait a week or two for them to respond.”
Segur mentioned it may be difficult to connect virtually, but he has experience teaching students both in person and online so he feels comfortable establishing a connection with prospective students.
“I know that it can be a struggle to connect virtually,” Segur said. “I feel comfortable doing it because I spent probably seven years in a classroom teaching (students) so for me, whether I am in person or in front of a camera, I feel like I can access students to give them a sense of what (the college) is all about. In that sense it has just been ‘all right, I cannot be there in person so I have to do what I can virtually.’ ”
Despite changes to recruitment methods, Segur still feels that the college is able to connect with the prospective students even if it has to be done in a virtual setting.
“I do not feel like (the college) struggles (with virtual meetings),” Segur clarified. “Obviously, the big struggle has been getting students in front of a computer screen because I think they are very much ‘Zoomed out’ at this point. Colleges and universities were running a ton of events over the summer so I think in that sense, students are already overwhelmed with the transition.”
In an attempt to increase accessibility for international prospective students, Admissions created an Instagram account dedicated to international students and the admissions process.
“Applying to college itself is a very stressful experience so having the (Instagram account) as a resource for international students who often need more help, I think, is very helpful,” Tiaralei Cade, ’23, said.
Cade — an international student from England — works for the Admissions Department. She also added that students who cannot visit the college are able to take a virtual tour.
Segur mentioned that he always tries to be as accessible as possible to students, especially international students. He posts videos on Instagram where he gives prospective international students advice about the college search process.
Segur acknowledged these virtual events may be tiresome to students, especially with the college search process.
“The disappointing aspect is that there are so many different virtual events happening that everyone is online and I feel that it has kind of diluted the quality of the experience that students are having,” Segur said. “You have virtual fairs and 210 schools show up so the (students) do not know where to start. What kind of service are we doing for them in the long run by overwhelming them?”
Cade mentioned that the virtual tours gave her an idea of what the campus looked like before she arrived. They also helped her get into contact with current international students, who hosted the tours for her.
“If you are interested in coming and applying to go here, show initiative, even if you cannot visit,” Cade said. “I was unable to visit even when there was not (COVID-19) just because of where I lived, but I was still able to do virtual tours. I got to see the campus and I had some enrolled international students help by giving me virtual tours. It is still possible to connect with students and faculty here even with (COVID-19) and travel restrictions.”
Nguyen was able to visit the college before enrolling and she recalled having a positive experience.
“I visited the school and I felt like the people here are very welcoming to international students,” Nguyen said. “Allegheny also offers a lot of virtual tours, which you can attend. International students and admissions are having an open house that is student-run, which international students can (virtually) attend. Those resources are really helpful because we did not have them before so we literally just joined video calls. I think that will help international students so much more and they will benefit because before we only had one video call, but now we have a bunch of them because of (COVID-19).”
Nguyen encouraged any student who is unable to visit campus to attend a virtual tour or reach out to Segur to be put into communication with an enrolled international student. Nguyen works closely with the incoming students from Vietnam — this mentorship also helped her feel comfortable at the college.
“Segur does an amazing job connecting with (international) students before they ever get to Allegheny and building a sense of community with our current students — both domestic and international — with prospective students,” Lucinda Morgan, Director of International Education said. “Whether they choose Allegheny or not, I think that they get a really good feel for our students and get connections … I think we are doing great things with connecting students before they get here and we have every intention to continue doing that — even more so now that we have to do everything virtually.”
Morgan said that connections with current students tend to be more authentic and relevant to the prospective student. Current students that are a part of the Culture 2 Culture program serve as mentors to the new international students. These mentors arrive on campus before everyone else moves in and help the new students acclimate to the culture.
“Students can be themselves here,” Morgan added. “They can find themselves here and explore things while being around people that support them … Our students find good niches here and that is done through connecting with current students, which makes us really special. At a bigger school, this would be nearly impossible to do. We are small and flexible so we are able to connect people a lot faster … I think we are very authentic and very genuine in our approach to communicating with students.”
Prospective students who may be nervous about applying can rest assured that they will be well-cared for at Allegheny, Nguyen indicated.
“When I came here, the International Education Office became my second family,” Nguyen said. “The International Education Office takes care of us. They are very protective of us. They teach us how to talk and say ‘hi’ as well as the culture and how to get a job on campus. They are so helpful that I never feel like I am falling behind.”
Nguyen recalled the International Education Office hosting several sessions for international students to get their social security cards and any paperwork completed so they can have an on-campus job. Bank representatives came to the college and helped students set up a bank account and fill out all necessary paperwork.
The transition into the United States will be different for every student because the culture and the people are different, Nguyen said.
“At first, you will feel like the transition is nothing,” Nguyen said. “Later, you will feel homesick and ask yourself why everything is so different than your home country. You might want to go home, but just keep going … Talk it out with anyone. We have mentors here and they are your friends so you can talk to them.”
Nguyen advised international students who feel homesick to reach out to the mentors that are assigned to them because they understand and are willing to help. Students also have the ability to reach out to the International Education Office if they are feeling sad or need advice.
Overall, both Cade and Nguyen agreed that they have had a very positive experience as international students at the college.
“You know, I really like being an international student here,” Cade said. “I get to form so many relationships with other international students and I think that is a really important community to have … It is nice to have that community where people can relate to my own experiences. Allegheny, overall, is very inclusive, or at least they try to be. I have never felt awkward because of my international status.”