Parenting Perspective: Insights for International Families
The far-flung Deerfield community comprises students from 37 countries from around the world. A quick glance at the Parent Directory begs the question, “How does the school welcome and support teenagers from such a wide variety of backgrounds?” In a conversation with Francoise Ellis, new International Student Advisor, and David Miller, Global Studies Director, we learn how the faculty and administration have planned and prepared for the students’ transition to their new home in the Pocumtuck Valley with the international student orientation program. In addition, parents Somsook and Malee Sertthin P’13,’15, and Mercedes Taylor P’13,’16, also a Spanish teacher at Deerfield, provide some anecdotes about the transition for new international students.
According to Francoise, “The first steps in welcoming students from afar is to reassure parents and students that someone is there right away to, not only welcome them, but also to answer any questions students may have or guide them to the right people for questions that require more expertise. These vary from medical information or visa matters, to academic-related issues. My role is to work in tandem with David Miller, the Dean of Students Office, advisors, and faculty residents to ensure a seamless transition at all levels, may it be in the dorm, in the classroom, or in social life on our campus. For me, there are no ‘little’ questions, and I want international students and their parents to know that.”
David Miller sees his role in working with Francoise as helping to “think about how we can best support international students and celebrate the international diversity that we have on campus. I manage many of Deerfield’s international partnerships, and spend much of my time thinking about how students transition to a new place as that is a key skill (and challenge) of a global citizen. Our goal is to integrate all new students as quickly as possible, but there are some key benefits to having a pre-orientation program for international students. Beyond the benefit of additional time for many of the students to overcome jet lag, our program introduces students to some key resources on campus, and allows us to discuss some of the logistical and cultural challenges of being a student from another country. We hope that all students feel welcome and have the resources they will need to make a smooth transition into life at DA. The power of having international students meet each other and student leaders on campus allows them to form bonds and find allies that might be having a similar experience during the opening weeks of school.”
For international families that can attend orientation, it is a valuable time for them to connect with advisors, dorm residents, and other faculty. Although it is challenging for any parent to have their child away from home and starting at a new school, some of the stresses can be compounded for parents who live on the other side of the globe and may go the whole year without visiting campus. David remarks, “Not all parents are able to attend orientation, so Francoise and I encourage them to reach out to us here at Deerfield so they can get to know the people that will be looking out for them and supporting their child’s continued growth. By my last count our faculty as a whole speaks more than 10 languages, so we may be able to find someone who is able to communicate in their native language.”
David reiterates, “In the first weeks and throughout the year, Francoise and I will be checking in with the new international students and will be available to answer questions any time.” Francoise remarks, “Of course, once on campus, my role will be to follow up with each student, especially early in the year, to make sure that they are well connected and do not need anything. For students who will not be able to return home for the breaks and holidays, I will work on finding them a host family, and arrange for the appropriate transportation if necessary. Another one of my ‘duties,’ which to me is a real pleasure, it is to organize some activities for international students throughout the year, and in this vein continue, for example, the famous ‘International Dinner’ that occurs in the spring.”
We asked Mercedes Taylor, Spanish teacher and parent of Sofi ’13 and Maia ’16, what she has observed about the culture and community at Deerfield that may reassure all parents, but particularly parents of international students. She responded, “Deerfield is a very close community and everyone is proud of that. We see students in classes, co-curriculars, sit-down meals, and in the dorm. As teachers, coaches, dorm residents, and advisors, we have many opportunities to see a student throughout the day and see how they are adjusting to their new environment. I would also add that in the first couple weeks of school everyone is extremely alert and available to help new students. We are very conscious about the new members of the community and we want them to do well. We have an efficient communication system between faculty, advisors, deans, and the Health Center that allows us to maintain fluid dialogue about our students.”
Mercedes adds, “As a mother I can say that students care about each other. I have seen my daughter initiate conversations with a dean because she was worried about a friend. The students know that there are many ways to communicate with adults in this community and they feel comfortable doing so.” Mercedes compliments David’s job last year in introducing international students to the Deerfield community and said, “David is also working with teachers. In my classes the students have to do a project where they interview international students and ask them about their life in their country and their adjustment to Deerfield.”
Somsook and Malee Sertthin P’13,’15 have sent two children to Deerfield and have some wonderful experience and advice to offer parents. “Pete is two years younger than Tan, so Tan being away from home was our first. Tan had attended a short-term boarding experience during summer a few times. She loved Deerfield Academy and determined to go to boarding school for her high school career after the look-and-see trip. She pushed herself to make new friends even during the revisit day. Instead of clinging to us she was off to various groups trying to blend in. So we did not worry about her adjustment to the new environment at Deerfield. We are lucky that Tan embraced her new life so quickly and had new friends from day one. When Tan was homesick during her first long winter weekend, we reached out to her advisor so she was aware of the situation to keep an eye on her. Tan’s advisor was able to help her through this period. Our experience with Pete was different as Pete can learn from his sister and we already have two years of experience in our bag.”
When asked if Somsook and Malee had any words of wisdom to pass along to other parents of international students, Somsook replied, “If we show weakness, they will. So after a good hug and words of encouragement, just turn and don’t look back. After all, it was their choice to go to Deerfield. I can say that knowing the support that Deerfield has in place, there’s no need to be worried.”
Here is a taste of what parents and students will experience during orientation:
International Student Orientation Agenda
September 3, 2013
New international students arrive and register.
Throughout the afternoon, Francoise Ellis and David Miller, along with the team of student leaders, will be available to help students check in, give tours, and get settled in their dorm rooms. Many residents will also be available throughout the afternoon.
Later in the afternoon, there will be a chance for families to meet their child’s advisor.
The international students will have dinner out on the South Patio with international student orientation leaders. This will be an informal time to get to know each other.
The international parents will have dinner in the Parker Room and be introduced to key administrators and faculty members.
After dinner, the parents are done for the night, and the students will be participating in orientation activities from 6:30-9:30pm led by the international student orientation leaders. The students will then head back to their dorms for the night where their dorm residents will check them in.
The next morning, after breakfast, the new international students will have a 2-hour session with Francoise Ellis and David Miller, supported by the international student leaders, where they will discuss different strategies for adapting to life at Deerfield and what types of support are available.
After that, students will be integrated into the new student orientation as all new students arrive on September 4.
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