Just two months before she had to make her decision, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions connected her to a Puerto Rican ambassador who answered her questions. With little time left to choose UNC, she decided to accept her spot in the class of 2020.
Once Mussack arrived at UNC for orientation, she found more problems with communication on the part of the University.
“I remember no one would help me with what classes to take,” she said. “They didn’t even give us a time for an advising appointment, and I thought we were going to have advising because I was undecided. So I was like, what the hell do I take?”
As of fall 2017, UNC was home to 472 undergraduate international students, but some of these students said the University does not do enough to provide them with the resources they need to succeed.
From picking classes to paying tuition
Coming from another country, Mussack did not know the basics of an American education — something she said hurt her when she was deciding what classes to take.
“I didn’t even know what Gen Eds were, so I just sat there and looked at all these classes," Mussack said. "And I was like, I don’t know what classes to take, so it took me those first two or three weeks to walk around and talk to professors and talk to advising after I had already signed up for classes."
Elizabeth Barnum, director of International Student and Scholar Services, said her department has a short program for new undergraduate international students during the regular orientation sessions.
“This year it was in the morning between 9 and 12, so a fairly short period of time, but we also offer different types of programs throughout the year, understanding that when students first arrive they’re going to be inundated with all kinds of things about the University and how to register,” she said. “Later on we’ll have programs for them specifically on employment rules and different kinds of social programs.”
Thien Pham, a UNC junior from Vietnam, said even after orientation, he was very confused on how to pay his tuition and had to get help from a former manager of the Wells Fargo branch next to UNC Student Stores.
“The information on the website is not helpful,” he said. “There is this guy, an old guy, basically he consults everyone on how to pay the tuition. He told me he has showed many other students how to do it because many international students are clueless on how to pay tuition.”
Pham said the University focuses more on Chinese students and should aid students of other nationalities with the tuition payment process.
“I feel like usually when we talk about international students, we usually only talk about Chinese students, because all the things are like, ‘How can you find the people in China to pay your tuition’,” he said.
Barnum said they have not had a session for international students from all different countries to pay their tuition, partly because the rules for foreign exchange and and wiring funds vary from country to country, and oftentimes students need individual attention.
Barnum said she believes banks help international students with tuition because of their specialized knowledge.
“There are some banks that are pretty helpful with international students, and some things are things that are very specific about transferring funds between particular countries that bankers know about, but the average person wouldn’t necessarily know,” she said.
Barnes said her department partners with others like The Writing Center to offer programs to international students, but Mussack and Pham have never heard of International Student and Scholar Services.
Barnum said she’s glad the problems international students face with finding information about paying their tuition was brought to her attention.
“That’s something we can take back, and work with the Cashier's Office to improve that,” she said. “That’s really good feedback, that’s the kind of thing that we love to get. Where did you have a problem, what can we do to make the resources more user-friendly and easier, and if that information isn’t user-friendly, then we need the feedback to know where students are finding issues, and we’re happy to add programs and to work on making sure we improve those areas where students are having problems.”
Social life at UNC
Lizzie Abouchar, a sophomore from the United Kingdom, said when it comes to clubs or organizations for international students, UNC students are on their own.
“UNC doesn’t have any, I was trying to find some,” she said. “I guess it depends on where you're from because obviously there aren’t many students from Europe, let alone the U.K.”
Pham said he also struggled to find international students from his home country at UNC and had to get creative to find a few.
“We do it manually, basically we go on the class of 2022 and we put in typical Vietnamese last names,” Pham said.
Campus groups like Global Heels and International Friends are aimed at connecting international students with each other and American students.
Mark Reeves, Ph.D. candidate and treasurer of International Friends, said his organization serves to fill the lack of social programs offered to international students at UNC.
“Various student organizations came together and decided to form this because they felt like there was a gap in welcoming international students, not necessarily the logistical and bureaucratic things, which our International Student Office does a great job with, but just welcoming people in a more human way, as people,” he said.
Barnum said her department does not have enough funding to put on all the events they would like to.
“We would like to see more funding devoted to programming and also with the increase in reinterpretation of federal regulations. We’re finding there’s a lot more that we’d like to do to bring awareness to things,” Barnum said. “We would like to do more things, but quite frankly we end up having to spend a lot of our efforts on compliance responsibilities so that our students can remain in valid immigration status, and we have to do that whether we like it or not.”