BY VICTORIA WANG ’20
With over ten years of experience working with international college students in the U.S., Bri Rhodes joined Mount Holyoke College this spring as the new Director of International Student Advising at the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives. She will help international students navigate immigration issues and work to improve their experiences on campus.
Much like the international students she will be advising and supporting at Mount Holyoke, Rhodes is well versed in international travel. After graduating from college with a degree in International Relations and Spanish, Rhodes joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Cambodia, where she taught English with a focus on issues of gender and public health development in the country. She then spent a year teaching at an international school in Kunming, a city in the Yunnan Province of China. Rhodes’ experience traveling and working abroad has granted her a special insight into international student advising, as she says she can re-late challenges students face on campus to personal hurdles she experienced during her years abroad.
Growing up in a rural farming community in Missouri, Rhodes had no international experience until she traveled to Cambodia. “It was the first time that I [had] been around people who [were] very different from myself, people who [had] different values and worldviews,” Rhodes said. Rhodes recognizes that international students often experience difficult transitions in college, and hopes to serve as a liaison between Mount Holyoke’s domestic and international communities. “[My experience] helps me to articulate the difficulties that international students are going through, perhaps to the people who have not had [..] international experience,” said Rhodes.
Before coming to Mount Holyoke, Rhodes advised international students at larger state institutions. Rhodes enjoys her work as an advisor because “I always liked being global and I always liked teaching,” she said.
Rhodes’ position is not without its difficulties. U.S. immigration restrictions, in particular, have developed into a significant barrier for international students over the past two years. “The U.S. immigration regulations have become very difficult to help students navigate,” said Rhodes. “They are made intentionally vague, so they can be open to interpretation and double standards.” She also pointed out that, because people who write immigration laws do not always have students in mind when crafting legislation, it can be challenging to help students maintain their legal status as immigration policy changes.
Even more challenging is helping international students remain in the country after graduation. Rhodes’ responsibilities at the McCulloch center will include assisting students who apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT) and other work permits af- ter graduation.
Rhodes is also working on international student programming on campus. In collaboration with various academic departments and international student organizations such as the International Student Orga- nization Committee (ISOC), she aims to improve the existing international student programs and students’ college experiences.
“International students here are a huge population. ISOC is a lot more vocal and active than any of the student organizations I’ve seen in other institutions,” she said. “The students are very good at advocating [for] what they want and they have a lot of skills developed in this area.”
At Mount Holyoke, she aims to unify international and domestic students into a cohesive community. “It is everyone’s responsibilities to make sure that [the campus] is as inclusive as possible,” Rhodes said.