UT International Office

The University has different protocols in case any “risk situations” affect students studying abroad. According to the UT International Office public affairs specialist, UT is prepared to deal with emergency situations.
Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

After terrorist group al-Shabaab killed at least 147 people, most of whom were students, in Garissa, Kenya, the UT International Office quickly ensured that there were no students or UT faculty in the region during the attack.

The militant group attacked Garissa University, located near the Kenya–Somalia border, on Thursday

Although there are currently no UT-affiliated study abroad programs in Kenya, the University’s international office has different protocols for a variety of “risk situations” for students studying abroad, according to Fiona Mazurenko, public affairs specialist at the International Office.

“When we heard of the news going on in Kenya, there was immediately checking of databases and everything to make sure we didn’t have anybody on the ground,” Mazurenko said.

The UT International Office is well prepared to deal with emergency situations, Mazurenko said.

“If there was somebody there, we would work with our partners on the ground to find the student — we would reach out to them directly,” Mazurekno said. “We would reach out to the emergency contacts to locate them and make sure that they were safe and had a plan in case they needed one.”

UT has evacuated students from their study abroad programs in the past. The University evacuated students in certain areas of the Middle East during the Arab Spring, as well as students in Japan after the 2011 tsunami that left more than 15,000 dead, according to Gabriela Rios, international risk outreach coordinator at the International Office.

Last year, administrators for Russian Express, a language and culture program, canceled the part of the program that normally takes place in Kiev, Ukraine, after political unrest erupted in the country. The program took students to Irkutsk, Russia, located in Siberia, instead.

Rios said the International Office is prepared to work with any country to make sure student security is not compromised.

“In December, there was that shooting in Australia, and there were students there at the time, so we went through our normal protocol to work with our partners on the ground and to get details about the situation and also to reach out to all the students to make sure they were safe,” Rios said.

Because of the heightened risk traveling in certain areas presents, UT has a restricted regions list for its international programs. Some of these restricted regions include Egypt, Haiti, India, Israel, Russia, Peru and Ecuador. No student, faculty or staff member can be required to travel to a country on the list.

A country’s placement on the restricted regions list can come about as the result of a number of factors, including U.S. Department of State travel warnings and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health rankings.

Emma Hines, environmental science and geography sophomore, has traveled to Ecuador — which is on the restricted list — as a study-abroad student and plans to go back with a UT Maymester group.

She said she feels UT is well prepared to take care of its students and wouldn’t be sending them abroad otherwise.

“When I studied abroad last summer, they made us complete some safety modules online and read a packet of information about general and personal safety,” Hines said “I was nervous last summer before going to Ecuador but never for safety reasons.”

If a student does get caught in the middle of a dangerous situation and has to come home, once they are safe, they will work with the office to determine which of the course credits they were working toward can be granted, Rios said.

“We do everything we can to give the student a smooth transition,” Rios said. “It depends on what type of class they’re in, what type of credit they’re receiving, how deep into the semester they are [and] what kind of course work they’re doing.”

With the click of a button, undocumented students at UT can now access vital academic, enrollment and graduation information thanks to a new website unveiled by the UT International Office.

The Longhorn Dreamers Project was created to strengthen support services on campus for undocumented students at UT in collaboration with the University Leadership Initiative, a student organization that advocates for undocumented students to achieve legal status.

University Leadership Initiative president Juana Guzmán said the new website will be a welcome change from the past when students struggled to find a central place for information.

“We didn’t have anywhere to turn to before this,” Guzmán said. “Now we have this website that has resources for us.”

Located within the UT International Office’s website, Longhorn Dreamers Project provides information on everything from financial aid and advising to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a new federal policy that allows certain undocumented residents to apply for temporary deferred deportation status and gain employment authorization. There are about 300 undocumented students currently enrolled at UT, according to the International Office.

Teri Albrecht, International Student and Scholar Services director, said the International Office identified a growing need among undocumented students to create a central place to access resources. She said that student input during the development of the website was crucial.

“We wanted to know directly from them what was the most beneficial information to provide on the website,” Albrecht said. “We went through focus groups with students to find out what they needed.”

Albrecht said she envisions the new website as being an asset not only to students but also to faculty and staff who seek to empower undocumented students.

“In the last 10 years, I’ve seen a lot of people across campus, faculty and staff, struggle to help students and didn’t know where to go necessarily,” Albrecht said. “Hopefully we’re helping faculty and staff who want to help students feel more empowered.”

University Leadership Initiative secretary Diana Morales said the website’s value lies in the fact that it was made for undocumented students by undocumented students.

“Most of the information that the website has comes from our own personal experiences,” Morales said.

Before the creation of the website, Morales said, it was often difficult for undocumented students to find a place to obtain information because their status didn’t fall into any existing administrative department.

“Here at UT, we don’t really have a specific category for us,” Morales said. “We don’t consider ourselves international students, and that can cause a lot of confusion.”

The website also offers information to undocumented high school students as well as high school counselors.

It is important for LGBTQ students to learn about the history and culture of the country in which they will be studying abroad and to think about these facts in relation to their sexual identity, said Laurie Young, program coordinator for the UT International Office.

A presentation on the issues and realities of studying abroad as a LGBTQ student was given on Monday as a partnership between the UT International Office and the Gender and Sexuality Center.

“Knowing the culture will affect how you view your own sexual orientation abroad,” Young said. “Cultures vary in their definitions of sexual identity and it really helps to research this before you get there.”

Young said she noticed the lack of resources and information available for LGBTQ students who want to study abroad and organized the presentation as part of the internship requirement for her master’s program.

“I wanted to leave something behind for UT,” Young said. “The goal of this presentation is to keep the conversation going and to help these students become successful.”

Young said the first time she studied abroad as an undergraduate was difficult because there were no resources available at her university for LGBTQ students.

“The second time I studied abroad I did a lot of research and it was a much better experience,” Young said. “I was able to open my mind to different perspectives and world views.”

Creating a support network of friends and family is also important for adjusting to the challenges of studying abroad and returning home as an LGBTQ student, Young said.

“Sometimes you can go abroad and the environment is very open and accepting,” Young said. “Having a support network is helpful when you come back to the U.S. and find it to be less accepting [than the country you visited].”

Shane Whalley, education and outreach coordinator for the UT Gender and Sexuality Center, presented research on the legal status of homosexuality, anti-discrimination and other gender-related issues of other countries as a resource for students to learn the laws of their host country.

“It’s surprising for some people to actually see what the laws are,” Whalley said. “We want to make students think about these different issues when they make plans to study abroad.”

Whalley said the most challenging issue for LGBTQ students is knowing how to handle their sexuality while they are studying abroad.

“You need to figure out how ‘out’ you can be in the host country,” Whalley said. “There are places you can go where this is no issue but other places where it is.”

Madeline Hayhurst, international relations and global studies sophomore, said the presentation brought up many issues she never thought about and reinforced the ideas she already had in mind.

“I recently came out,” Hayhurst said. “This information is helpful because I want to go to a country that doesn’t force me back into the closet.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 as: Study abroad poses cultural, legal issues for LGBTQ students

A construction worker helps demolish the International Office building located on 24th and Nueces Wednesday afternoon. The new office has been relocated to 23rd and Rio Grande, above Red Mango.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

The International Office found a new home this summer after UT leased its old location to developers looking to erect a new apartment tower.

The Board of Regents signed a 60-year ground lease with Education Realty Trust, who will develop, own and manage a multi-family apartment complex at 2400 Nueces Street, said campus director of real estate Amy Wanamaker. The International Office is temporarily located at 2222 Rio Grande Street above Red Mango but will be permanently housed at the new complex upon completion.

Wanamaker said UT is demolishing Wooldridge Hall, the former home of the office and ground-leasing the location to the student-housing developer after determining this was the most profitable use of the land asset.

UT leased the location so the firm would develop the property and return profit at minimal risk to UT, she said.

“They have 50 years of experience in higher education student housing development, and we thought they would be a good fit for the University,” Wanamaker said.

With an increasing student population there is a growing need for housing, said Education Realty Trust spokeswoman Susan Jennings.
Jennings said the firm was designing an apartment community that would appeal to different people, including graduate students and faculty.

“[The] main priorities were to take some of the textures and colors from the existing historical architecture of the campus and repeat them in this building to make a nice transition into the neighborhood,” she said.

Jennings said construction follows the guidelines of the University Neighborhood Overlay, designed by the city to allow for dense development in the West Campus area.

The $63.9 million project will include 306 units ranging from studios to four-bedrooms, a parking garage, a swimming pool, a rooftop patio and ground-level retail space, she said.

Construction will begin in the next few months and continue until summer 2013, Jennings said.

Wooldridge Hall was originally built in the 1880s but was so heavily rebuilt over the following 45 years that it was no longer the same building, said UT spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon.

“The building didn’t have elevators. There were structural problems with the roof, and so the regents ended up making the decision to go this direction,” Weldon said.

The International Office was located in Wooldridge since December 2004 and had been told multiple times that UT intended to move them since, said Candace Shye, an executive assistant for the office.

Shye said the staff is generally positive about the move, considering the old building had rain leaks, sinking floor tiles, dripping air-conditioning units, overflowing sinks and even a six-month rat infestation.

“Generally we’re all very happy that we moved over here, and I think, for the most part it was a smooth transition,” she said.

Once the apartment construction is finalized in August 2013, the International Office will relocate to the office space in the first two stories of the complex, she said.

Printed on Thursday, July 28, 2011 as: International Office moves to Rio Grande temporarily