U. of I. Police Lt. Joan Fiesta (front row, second from right) traveled to China and South Korea in June to assist with the university's pre-arrival orientation sessions for incoming international students. She said the experience was mutually beneficial to the students' understanding of safety in the United States and the police department's ability to anticipate and address their needs.
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SEOUL, South Korea — Upon returning from the University of Illinois Police Department’s first trip overseas to talk about campus safety with incoming international students, U. of I. Police Lt. Joan Fiesta says the experience was extremely valuable not only for students and their parents, but also the police department.
UIPD’s campus safety messages have always been relayed by other university representatives who have for years been making the trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu, China, and Seoul, South Korea, to complete what are known as pre-arrival orientation sessions for incoming students. But Fiesta said that the students’ personal interactions with a police officer during UIPD’s first year on the road was extremely valuable.
Questions from students ranged from things like driving in the United States and how to sign up for self-defense classes to whether skateboards are allowed. Parents accompanying the students were understandably anxious, but having an officer there seemed reassuring.
“From the parents, I received questions on walking alone at night, how to choose a safe area for an apartment, and whether their sons or daughters are going to be safe,” Fiesta said. “Many of the parents who attended are sending their one and only child to us, over 6,000 miles away. They were extremely thankful to have an officer there. To be able to work with them directly was truly an honor.”
UIPD has always been aware of the unique safety challenges faced by international students and scholars at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. UIPD routinely works closely with the International Student and Scholar Services office to recognize and address those unique needs through special presentations and classes, as well as printed and digital information.
Fiesta said being in those students’ home environment helped her to better understand what they might experience when they arrive in the United States.
“It is extraordinarily daunting trying to navigate when you are unable to read or understand most portions of a language,” Fiesta said. “I had a couple of mornings where I yearned for a donut and drip coffee and I couldn’t even read a sign to order one – I had to rely on someone to help me, or use a translation app. Culture-shock was salient; experiencing that provided empathetic insight as to what our students might feel while studying here for great lengths of time.”
It also helped her to better understand the fundamental differences in the college experience overseas. For example, campuses in China are generally closed to the public, which is not the case at large U.S. universities like the Urbana campus. That can present an unexpected reason for anxiety for some international students.
“We don’t check IDs at the Hallene Gateway or Alma Mater,” Fiesta said. “Seeing that made me think about how we help provide people with an understanding of the difference between the two and what we may need to communicate to them to help them better navigate our community.”
All in all, Fiesta said she was extremely thankful to have a chance to speak with incoming students and she hopes it is something in which UIPD will continue to participate.
“It helped me better understand their own cultural environment, as well as their and their parents’ concerns,” Fiesta said. “Seeing how our students who come from other countries live, work, and study is invaluable to how we serve them. “