The Michigan Daily: International students are kind of the lifeblood of the University. What is your role in recruiting the international students?
Rodolfo Altamirano: In terms of recruitment, my role and the role of the International Center and the role of the Division of Student Affairs is to provide the best quality service that we can provide for our international students. We are all committed in terms of making sure we provide a home away from home – a welcoming atmosphere. Our goal is to give a good response to their questions and since we are dealing with immigration regulations, we have to provide the best knowledge about immigration policies that we can. If we are providing high-quality service, if we are treating international students as part of the U of M community, and they feel that they belong in this community, that’s a very big recruitment and marketing tool.
TMD: How do you prepare for the questions they ask?
RA: It’s like going to the doctor’s office. If you come here, I’m the one that should provide you, I’m the one you should ask and so basically, in terms of immigration knowledge, the International Center is the expert in that. My students are aware that I provide an open door policy and they can come in anytime. For me, I think building connections, the linking, the partnership and making them feel like they can talk to someone is a very good recruiting tool. I think the big thing is being sincere with your heart. Students should feel the sincerity in you, that you really care, and I’m proud to say that we connect with the students. I was a former international student, so I should know.
TMD: Why does the University put such an emphasis on international students?
RA: The University of Michigan has a big reputation and a long tradition for bringing the best, in terms of international education. I think international education plays a very important role in the University agenda. If you’re bringing different perspectives from all over the world in terms of global perspectives – hearing for example from a Brazilian about the rain forests or the Buddhist religion from Thailand or the woman’s role in India – and you’re hearing that from the mouths of people who lived there, it brings intellectual richness. Then there’s the cultural diversity. When there’s diversity in the classroom, it gives every person who’s part of the University community a richer perspective. Of course, the University is big in research and it wants to do an international perspective in so many of its initiatives. It’s limitless.
TMD: Why are visas becoming so hard to obtain?
RA: I think it’s brought about by all the national security issues. When 9/11 happened, America said we need to tighten our international security. One of the bombers had an F-1 visa – a student visa – and so that opened doors for us watching our borders closely. Again, it comes down to politics. It changes from one issue to another and 9/11 was the biggest critical event that made it harder for people to get visas. But now, it’s loosening up.
TMD: Does that hurt study abroad?
RA: It can hurt study abroad. It’s again political, because countries can make their own regulations, but people are still studying abroad. (Our numbers) are still there. I’m really thankful that the import and export of international education is still happening.
TMD: You brought up how you were an international student years ago. How has it changed now from when you were an international student?
RA: I’ll start with the negatives and end on a high note. If I’m an international student now, I’m scared to go home. If my visa has expired I have to make sure I can go back to America. There’s so much uncertainty, so much scrutiny and I just want to make sure I can go back and forth. International students feel they have to explain everything. Pluses: I think the world, with a global economy and an advent of technology is getting smaller and people are more open to talking. There’s more opportunity now at a time like this for open dialogue. People have seen there’s an increase in international students and despite 9/11, it is still there and so the more students and faculty (that) come here, the more they feel at home. They’re part of a community.
TMD: Has the International Center been hurt at all because of the lack of state funding and increased tuition?
RA: In one way, I think the University has set priorities and the Division of Student Affairs and the Dean of Students have tried their best to make sure the International Center is run smoothly. We have to provide resources and time because we don’t want international students to be neglected or not able to comply because of our own negligence. If we don’t do our job well, an international student can be sent home and it’s not his or her fault.
TMD: Is the insurance plan for international students mandatory and why is that?
RA: It is mandatory. One (reason) is because it’s State Department rules. Number two is because of the exorbitant costs of insurance here, there have been some cases in the past – not at the University of Michigan – where a student got hurt and had no money to pay for the insurance and (the plan helps to) make sure they are covered.
TMD: What do you find is the hardest thing for international students to adjust to and how do you accommodate that?
RA: I’m just looking back to my own time. Let me tell you a story. When I first came here, I arrived in the winter, and when I got out of the plane at the airport, I was wearing a very thin jacket, and I thought I would die. I never felt the sensation – the cold – I never comprehended that cold. I thought right before I came that I could practice that by putting my head in the freezer. It’s cold, right? But never did I expect the cold. I went back to the Detroit airport and my brother picked me up (and said) “Come on, get in. It’s so cold out, I’ll die!”