INTO OSU houses international students, eases adjustment to college life

Joe Wolf, News Contributor

Figuring out where to live can be an incredible burden on any Oregon State University student, but international students specifically face a unique set of challenges. 

The biggest problems for international students include not being in the U.S. when they have to find housing, high costs of living, the prevalence of scammers, language barriers and process barriers, according to Julianna Betjemann, the director of student experience at INTO OSU, located in the International Living and Learning Center, or ILLC.

“Maybe they’ve never found housing before,” Betjemann said. “Because they’re 18 and they’ve lived at home until now just like American kids.”

INTO OSU is a partnership between Oregon State and INTO University Partnerships which provides both English language and academic preparation for around 1,000 international students. Students take part in the program during their first year at Oregon State and eventually matriculate and become degree-seeking students. The OSU Office of International Services provides international students support after they leave the INTO OSU program, according to Betjemann.

While students are in the program, Betjemann focuses on the non-academic aspects of the college experience.

“The student experience does take into account cultural adjustment, social engagement, living and arrival and orientation,” Betjemann said. 

Betjemann explained that INTO OSU has a first-year living program called the Pathway, similar to the first-year on-campus living requirement most domestic students are subject to. 

“Most of the students in our center are Pathway students or Pathway-bound, and they’re going to live on campus for three terms,” Betjemann said. “International students can live anywhere on campus.”

Despite the variety of options, Betjemann explained that around 50 to 60 percent of international students live in the ILLC, where the INTO OSU program is located.

“Many students choose this building because it has a suite-style restroom type, and a higher level of privacy for the restroom is often preferred among international students,” Betjemann said.

Jianwen Yin, a student success peer facilitator at the Asian and Pacific Cultural Center and an international student himself, explained some of the challenges he faced coming to OSU from China.

“I figured out there are lots of barriers between the international group and the OSU community,” Yin said. “It’s really hard to get engaged with the events or activities of the OSU community and sometimes, especially in the first year I came here, I had a lot of problems communicating or establishing friendships with domestic students.”

In regards to housing, Yin stressed the difficulty he faced trying to do research from behind the Great Firewall of China, a restriction on which sites the people of China can access.

“We have very limited access to get the information about the housing stuff,” Yin said. “Just to be convenient for me, I reserved an apartment from INTO OSU.”

Yin feels the university charges international students too much to live on campus, and could do more to ease the financial burden many students face.

“The university could collaborate with the outside housing agency to help international students get access to the information about cheaper rental (options),” Yin said.

Mohammad Pakravan, a current Ph.D. student in humanitarian engineering, first came from Iran to Ohio for his master’s degree. In an email, he explained his experiences finding a place to live in Corvallis as an international student.

“When I was checking housing prices here online, I couldn’t believe it…even though Corvallis is a small town relative to Dayton, Ohio, I had to pay as much as I used to pay for a two-bedroom apartment there for a master bedroom or a sketchy shared room depending on the location here,” Pakravan said.

Pakravan also echoed the concern Betjemann raised, that international students were being taken advantage of.

“One other problem I have seen in Corvallis is that landlords usually do not pay back the deposit for very nonsense reasons. I have seen couple of friends and myself that different landlords refused to pay back our deposits because of cleaning fees,” Pakravan said. “The landlord didn’t pay me back even half of my deposit, while I was able to refund my deposit from the Dayton landlord easily.”

Oregon State offers many programs to help international students adjust to life in the U.S. However, Betjemann believes there is more to be done, especially when domestic and international students are paired together in the residence halls.

“Living with other people is hard, even when you have everything in common. It can be hard to live with your best friend, your own sibling,” Betjemann said. “These are hard situations to navigate for anybody. They’re going to be hard for the international student, they’re going to be hard for the roommate.”

Betjemann explained that UHDS has been working on a curriculum this year to help international and domestic students learn to understand each other.

“I think we can enhance the living experience by supporting roommate pairs, by helping people learn to have those conversations,” Betjemann said.

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