Tacoma, Wash. – Representatives from more than 20 schools across Washington state came to Charles Wright Academy on Friday, April 21, to attend a first annual conference dedicated to establishing best practices for international student programs in independent schools.
Charles Wright Academy International Student Coordinator Ann Vogel developed the program for the daylong conference, titled “Building Best Practices for International Student Programs: Let’s Write the Book on Serving International Students Better.” Heads of School, residential life coordinators, international student program leaders, faculty members, and other school staff members who are invested in international student education were in attendance.
“My counterparts at other schools and I often consult and advise each other on one-off topics regarding our work with international students,” says Ms. Vogel of what inspired her to organize the conference. “I thought it would be helpful to get together for discussions on a more intentional level. We all have a lot to learn from each other, and we all share a mission of supporting international students regardless of whether it’s a residential program, a parochial school, or us here at Charles Wright.”
Speakers at the conference included:
- Allie Mouche, a representative from the Cambridge Institute of International Education who spoke on international market trends
- Jonathan Dietzen and Stephanie Garrard, representatives with the Student and Exchange Visitor Program within U.S. Immigration and Customs who spoke on the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System
- the Bear Creek School’s Vivian Hom, who has a law degree and spoke to helping students succeed academically and communicating with international parents
- Dr. Chuan-Chuan Tsai, a psychotherapist who spoke on family dynamics and managing mental health and learning difference issues that often accompany living and studying away from home
- Ms. Vogel, who led a discussion on host family recruitment and relationship building as well as on the development of ongoing orientation programs
- Warren Martin, J.D., of Gordon Thomas Honeywell and LuAnn Winter of Country Financial, who joined Dr. Tsai for a panel discussion on legal and risk management issues
- CWA Upper School Head Bill White, who spoke on integrating students into host families and the life of the school
- four Charles Wright Academy international students (one from each grade in the Upper School) who shared what they want educators to know about their experiences
Ms. Vogel considered organizing the day in such a way as to dive deep into just a handful of topics, but she quickly realized that an introduction to many of the common issues may be a better route for this first conference. It seems to have been a successful approach. “It was wonderful for me to be educated more about serving our international students,” says attendee Elizabeth Tender, the international student coordinator at St. George’s School in Spokane. “I can never learn enough. I felt like every bit of information provided was valuable.”
Guest speaker Dr. Tsai agrees. “On behalf of all international students studying in the U.S., I want to thank CWA and all involved for providing this unique and precious opportunity for the students to learn about the world and about themselves,” she says. “To them, this is so very different from what they are familiar with; and with the hard work that educators do, they are planting a seed that hopefully will germinate and flourish to become a fully alive human being.”
Ms. Vogel hopes to hold this conference annually in the spring, and she says there are plans for attendees to present at the Northwest Association of Independent Schools Fall Educators Conference here at CWA this October. “It was enlightening for me to see so many various approaches to how schools provide their international student programs,” she says. “This is an opportunity for schools in the Pacific Northwest to share what has worked and what hasn’t worked for our communities and to develop best practices that improve the quality of process, program, and support for international students and their families.”