There was a time when Kristy Aoki wanted to be an athletic trainer. Then she met a group of students who introduced her to international culture, and a friend who convinced her to take a trip to Cypress. It was the first of 30 trips to foreign lands, and she discovered that traveling the world helped her find her place in it.
Aoki is the student service coordinator for UW-Green Bay’s Office of International Education. She was the featured speaker at UW-Green Bay’s final After Thoughts event of the academic year, April 7 at the Weidner Center. She shared her many experiences — from rich to challenging — in helping international students successfully navigate in the U.S., in Green Bay and at UW-Green Bay.
There are about 120 international students from about 30 countries that attend UW-Green Bay this semester, with China (25%), Brazil (10%), Germany (8%), France (7%), Japan and Canada (6%) leading the list. Aoki helps them with airport pick-up and academics, orientation, immigration, programming, financial and health insurance, taxes, driver’s licenses and more.
“International students are followed closely, requiring us to prove semester registration, change of status, work authorization, internship approvals and address updates,” Aoki says. “Because they can receive a work VISA after graduating, it is the responsibility of the host institution to update immigration post-graduation as well.”
It’s not all pushing paperwork. Aoki and the International Education Office staff also introduce students to American culture — large Thanksgiving dinners, pumpkin carving, bonding trips to Door County, and of course, an annual trip to Lambeau Field. These activities often lead to deep connections between the International Office staff members and the students they serve.
Aoki also reminded the After Thoughts crowd about the benefits to a University of having international students on campus, echoing a recent Duke University (Journal of International Students, June 2013) study that showed that interactions between international students and American peers strengthen the experiences of all, and positively influence the U.S. students’ friends and families toward international students; the experience expands the Americans’ world view and challenges existing views; the experience increases Americans’ appreciation of art, literature, historical perspective and language skills and it positively impacts their careers and public service.
The enrichment that international students provide a campus community is reason enough for a strong program, says Aoki, but she points to a financial benefit to a community as well. She noted that 65% of international students are completely supported by their own families, and contribute over 27 billion dollars to the U.S. economy (2013-14). That translates into three U.S. jobs created for every seven international students who study in the U.S.
Now in its fourth full season, After Thoughts seeks to connect women in the community with UW-Green Bay. The gatherings showcase University faculty, staff and guests, and convene women — and often, “a few good men” — after their workdays for learning, enrichment and fun. The sessions are so named because they provide “After Thoughts” for participants to take with them when they leave.
Each After Thoughts event takes place from 5-7 p.m. in the Grand Foyer of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts on campus, 2420 Nicolet Drive. The events begin with time to network, mingle and enjoy hors d’oeuvres before the featured guest speaker begins. The tentative fall 2015 line-up includes Nursing Professor Heather Herdman on complementary and alternative medicine and Professors Alison Gates and Heidi Sherman, who bring artisan skill and history together to explore experimental archeology and the “UWGB Flax project.”