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February 7, 2008


Pitt is fortunate to have students from over 100 different countries inside its classrooms, using its research facilities and sharing their experiences.

But these students didn’t arrive on campus easily. The challenges they face often are enormous. Therefore, it is essential that international students establish strong relationships in the Pitt community early on in their stay here. Pitt’s Office of International Services (OIS), with the assistance of faculty, staff and administrators throughout the University, works to make our campus their new home.

International students are students first, and should be understood in this way. At the same time, it would be wise to acknowledge some of their unique challenges and how University resources can be used to overcome them.

International students must meet the same rigorous academic and holistic expectations as domestic students, but they also must demonstrate sufficient English language proficiency. This is done most commonly by achieving a minimum score of 80 on the Internet-based Test of English as a Foreign Language. Students may also take the International English Language Testing System or other versions of the TOEFL as evidence, details of which can be found on the OIS web site.

Once students arrive on campus they must attend a check-in session so OIS can meet specific reporting mandates from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. While this usually is a routine process, it can be very stressful to new students and an extra degree of compassion is warranted. After check-in, the hold on the students’ accounts is lifted. Most international students also must complete the English Language Institute’s language proficiency test as an additional measure to ensure success in the classroom. Once completed, students are cleared to register, can meet with advisers and get the ID card that makes Pitt feel like home.

A strong relationship with academic advisers is especially critical for international students, because their needs can be different and have serious consequences if neglected. International students must maintain full-time status at the University to continue to stay legally in this country. Like all new students, a lighter course load is recommended in the first term.

In addition, international students may struggle with culture shock or language barriers, struggles that could affect their academic performance. While OIS should be alerted if an international student is put on academic probation, advisers also are encouraged to contact OIS if academic problems are anticipated, so we can work together to identify the root cause of the problems facing the students and tap into resources to solve the problem.

In addition to taking classes, many international students want or need to work part time. International students are eligible to work on campus in teaching or research assistant positions, jobs in the library or an administrative office, positions in the University Book Center or any of the eateries on campus. Off-campus employment, however, can be more complicated and should always be curricular in nature. As part of the review process for employment and other activities, OIS asks for an academic adviser’s signature on request forms to ensure that academic requirements are being met and that the activity in question aligns with the student’s academic path. As a general rule, international students should consult with OIS before accepting any job.

At OIS, we seek to do more than just invite internationals into the classroom; we want them to become part of our community. To accomplish this goal, all of us — faculty, staff and students — must work together, building relationships and meeting each other’s needs. OIS is here as a resource to help.


George Kacenga is assistant director for international admissions in the Office of International Services.

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