From visa issues that have kept beginners off-campus to the trans-Atlantic time changes that complicate their online courses, international students have faced significant challenges at the start of the virtual fall semester. The Harvard alumni around the globe say they want to help ease their experience.
With over 370,000 alumni, Harvard boasts more than 195 alumni clubs worldwide. The University also has Common Interest Groups, linking alumni to specific activities, identity groups, professions or cultures.
Yoshiko J. Jun Nagao 96, who serves on the board of the Harvard Club of Japan and previously served as Director of the Harvard Alumni Association for Asia-Pacific Alumni Clubs, said alumni can help fill gaps by provided mentoring and internship counseling to students outside the United States.
I think where we can really add value is, for example, one-on-one counseling, Nagao said. Many of our graduates are willing to offer counseling or internship opportunities.
Although the pandemic poses challenges for all, Theresa S. Cho 90 who serves as HAA Director for Asia-Pacific Alumni Clubs and Joint Interest Groups said international students face additional layers of uncertainty.
In particular, she said she is concerned about beginners, noting that many have never seen Harvard Yard or traveled to Cambridge.
I think where local alumni can go in and play a really proactive role in acting as a liaison between Harvard, where they will learn, and the local environment, where they should continue to learn, Cho said.
She added that graduates can also act in a supportive role closer to home.
Since we are much closer to the students themselves, this physical proximity gives us a unique way to help the University, Cho said.
Robert G. Bob Manson, who serves as HAA Director for European Clubs and SIG, said international alumni are discussing how they can best support students who have either chosen to enroll or postpone.
For those students who have chosen not to procrastinate, how do we support them in their studies, especially when there are perhaps financial challenges to meet? he said. So, for those students who have chosen to push, how do we put them in touch with the international alumni community or the alumni community in their home country?
He said their talks do not focus on the need to mobilize alumni, but rather raise awareness among the existing alumni network and encourage its members to gather around students at this time.
Santiago Creuheras, a newly elected HAA Director, said the graduates are planning activities like office hours and happy hours for international students through Harvard Clubs around the world.
We are also trying to provide support for the families of off-campus students, he said.
Denise A. Silber, who serves as Vice President of the Harvard Club of France, said her club recently hosted an event about leisure time that provided a space for attendees to connect with each other.
Silber also noted concerns about how students will connect with clubs to receive support. Because of privacy concerns, the University could not send clubs a list of students to a specific location, she said. As a result, students must choose to obtain information from clubs.
They even need to know that there is this thing they can ask about, she said.
She called on the University to raise awareness about the existence of clubs by including their information in the initial emails to newly admitted students and offering to link them to alumni based on their geography or common interests.
University spokesman Christopher M. Hennessy wrote in an email to The Crimson that the alumni association provides strong infrastructure for connections between students and alumni.
HAA provides a robust infrastructure for all alumni to connect with each other in their home communities and encourages and supports students in building connections with those alumni communities, Hennessy wrote.
Pavlos P. Photiades 88, a HAA Europe Director, said alumni from clubs in his region are seeking help to provide advice and assistance to beginners, but he acknowledged that the alumni interface is not a substitute for connection with their colleagues.
You can imagine it, especially for people who have never trespassed at Harvard and they have just started lessons, they really need to be overwhelmed, he said. The elderly alumni is not in such a good position to help.
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