Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Emily Gumal wants to be a writer. She didn’t have to do much research to learn that the University of Iowa was the place for her.

But anxiety started to set in as the day approached when she would leave her hometown of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia, for far-off Iowa City.

“I was nervous about coming to Iowa, so I wanted to get as well acquainted as I could before I left home,” says Gumal, a second-year creative writing and English major.

To better prepare for the experience, Gumal tuned in to a series of pre-arrival webinars produced specifically for international students by UI’s International Programs office. The webinars provide incoming international students with information about being successful at Iowa and about life in Iowa City and the U.S.

“It’s important to prepare students culturally and academically so they understand as soon as possible what’s expected of them to succeed at the university and what they can expect while living in the United States and in Iowa City,” says webinar coordinator Andrea Siebenmann, an international student and scholar advisor in International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS). “The webinars introduce various academic and culture-related topics so students have a chance to process them early in their preparation and then better absorb the information during on-campus orientation when they arrive.”

The first webinar series was offered in spring 2017. The series now covers 10 topics for students starting in the fall 2019 semester, including on- and off-campus housing, travel arrangements, orientation and academic expectations, and how to get involved in campus life. Some are aimed specifically at graduate or undergraduate students, Siebenmann says, while the rest are useful for both groups. Each webinar is streamed live twice a day to account for time zone differences around the world. Webinars also are recorded and transcribed so students who aren’t able to participate in the live webinar can access and watch them later on the ISSS website.

The webinars are optional, and students can tune in to those that cover topics they’re interested in. More than 160 students from 20 countries who are part of the Class of 2022 participated in a webinar during the 2018–19 cycle. Siebenmann says that feedback from the follow-up surveys is mostly positive and shows the students find them useful.

Brandon Paulson, a senior advisor in ISSS, says many campus departments collaborate on the seminars, which provide an opportunity to reach all new students, no matter where they live. To encourage engagement, coordinators also include time at the end of each session for students to ask questions.

“The webinars help to establish a connection between the university and the student,” says Paulson, who coordinates on-campus orientation for international students and has assisted with some of the webinars. “It’s great to make connections and improve engagement to help students become more involved and encourage them to make connections with others.”

Gumal took part in four Iowa webinars during her senior year of high school and says she found them helpful in preparing for success during her first year at UI. Most helpful were those about travel and a question-and-answer session with a panel of current international students.

“I learned a lot of things that I needed to know,” she says. “Things like, the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids is the only one available for UI students, and how to apply for transfer credits that I earned in high school.”

Gumal found the webinars so helpful that now she helps on the other end, participating in a webinar this summer telling the next group of international students about her experience moving to the U.S. and attending Iowa.

“I want to help others who are probably just as nervous as I was, and I remind myself what it was like to be in their shoes,” Gumal says. “When I answer their questions, I’m honest and tell them about my experience and how it’s lived up to all of my expectations.”

The webinars for students arriving for the fall 2019 semester began March 29 and run through July 26.