For more than 70 years, the Harvard International Office (HIO) has acted as a liaison between international students and scholars and the U.S. government agencies - supporting Harvard’s educational and research mission by supporting scholars from around the globe. Martha Gladue, Director of the HIO, Zarrin Foster, Coordinator, Friends of International Students, and Darryl Ziegler, Advisor to International Students and Scholars talk discuss their work in an increasingly complex regulatory environment.
What do you do and what is your team's biggest contribution?
Martha Gladue: I work with an incredibly talent group of advisors and administrators who provide information and advice on a wide range of topics to the international community coming to Harvard, including immigration issues like visa questions, work permits, travel, and financial requirements, as well as social and cultural resources. Through the years, the HIO has played an increasingly important role in advocacy with government agencies and legislators on issues concerning international students and scholars. We work with offices and key stakeholders throughout the University to offer support, and to advocate for the international students and scholars across the University who are important members of our community and who play a critical role in Harvard’s academic mission.
Darryl Ziegler: We support Harvard’s teaching and research mission by providing visa and immigration services to people coming here as students and people coming to teach and do research. In my role, I issue immigration documents with the approval of the government. Our biggest contribution is relieving the stress of coming to a new country for our clients so they can focus on their studies or their work.
Zarrin-Taz Foster: My job has two parts: Orientation of international scholars and the International Student Host Program. Orientations are primarily for scholars and their families to help them get settled into life in the U.S. so they can concentrate on their academic pursuits – for example, understanding the schools system, what to expect when filing taxes, getting a driver’s license, how our health insurance system works. We also cover social aspects here so they don’t get isolated: resources at Harvard and opportunities in the surrounding area, like how to get to Martha’s Vineyard. Everyone has heard of Martha’s Vineyard, and wants to go there.
The Host Program is for graduate students. It’s not a live-in program, but it matches graduate students with adult volunteers who are willing to help the student become acclimated to life here and to expose the student to cultural experiences so they don’t become isolated.
What don't people know about what your team does?
Martha: The HIO was established in 1944! At its inception, there were 250 students from overseas who needed assistance with the settling-in process and advice in complying with U.S. government regulations. The original mission of the office remains the same, but the international population has grown to over 10,000 international students and scholars, many of whom are accompanied by family members.
Darryl: First, I think people have no idea that part of our role is to actually issue immigration documents for international students and scholars coming here. Second, I think the number of people we work with, which can also include spouses and partners, would be surprising to many people. The HIO has nearly 10,000 clients right now, representing 153 countries.
Zarrin: If a department administrator is helping an international scholar who has questions about schools or these other issues, we are here to help - we have orientations to tackle the practical aspects of living here. Also, a lot staff don’t know about the Host Program and that we’re always looking for volunteers and they’re eligible. It’s a great way for a staff member to help a student and get involved in our broad, interesting international community.
What is the most challenging thing about your work?
Darryl: The growing complexity of U.S. immigrations regulations and the regulatory environment – this is a challenge that predates the current administration. The regulations keep getting more and more complex.
Martha: I agree - at this time of constant change in government regulations and political environment, we need to stay up to date to give our clients the best information and support possible.
What are the professional backgrounds of your team members?
Darryl: We come from different backgrounds, but an interest in the international field is important – this is my 30-year anniversary in the field. My educational background is in international relations. After graduating from Georgetown, I started as an assistant in their International Office. I was there for 7 years, before moving on to Howard University.
Zarrin: I have a liberal arts background, worked as an immigration advisor at the HIO and then got my master’s at HGSE. One thing that was very beneficial in my current role was that I took a break from Harvard and lived abroad with my family. That gave me an appreciation for the kinds of practical needs and questions you have when you go to live in a new country, which I’ve used since returning to the HIO.
Martha: Many of our advisors have been at the HIO for many years and others have worked at other colleges and Universities in similar student or scholar advising roles before coming to Harvard. Most have a bachelor’s degree or advance degree in International Education. Many were students who travelled abroad during their undergraduate experience. My background is different - I came from retail and customer service and have a BS in business. I joined Harvard 13 years ago as the Manager of Administrative Services for UOS and continued in administration management roles. Through a retirement, an opportunity presented itself to manage the HIO team.
What does success/your best day look like?
Zarrin: When I’ve relieved some of the stress in a person’s life – that’s a wonderful feeling. So often, clients just want to bounce ideas off somebody, and when you’ve helped them, you can see that they’re really thankful, not just being polite. Also, when I do a group orientation and if I see people talking with others after the session, and they’ve made that first connection with other people who are new, that’s a great day.
Martha: Success is when our clients are confident and secure with the advice and assistance they receive from us so they are able to be successful in the work that they came here to do. And equally as important, success is when my team is satisfied and professionally fulfilled with the guidance and service they have provided and understand their value in fulfilling the University’s mission.
Darryl: This may sound corny, but my best day is truly when people leave my office relieved of their stress. The come in and they’re worried and anxious about an issue – and the issues may be serious – and I’m able to work with them and talk them through. And they leave calmer and are able to go back to the work that they came here to do.