There are 27 international students at ECHS, but many students do not know how the international department works, or what brings people from across the world to EC.
The international department is an organization within Eastern Christian which helps students from across the world to adapt to life and learning in the US and at EC. The international department has been active at Eastern Christian for decades, as Ms. Ji Sung Rhyu, the International Student Advisor, said, “There are more schools now that are investing into supporting international students, but I think, really, EC was a pioneer in that effort.”
International students come to Eastern Christian for a variety of reasons. Ms. Rhyu described how, “Way back students just discovered that there was this little Christian Private School in New Jersey and they started sending their kids. Once the international department became more official… we also started working with international agents, now we have an established list of international agencies that help us recruit students.” Many international students come to EC because they appreciate the teachers and staff, the people who make Eastern Christian the school it is. Ms. Rhyu believes that this is what separates EC from other schools that international students might be interested in.
Before starting school, international students must first get admission to EC and the necessary papers to study in the US. The application process for international students is much the same as it is for domestic students, however, international students must also demonstrate English proficiency, and their families must show proof that they are able to financially support a student studying internationally.
After being admitted to EC, international students will be issued an I-20 form which is a ‘Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.’ This is an extremely important document, not only because it allows students to study within the US, but also because it can only be issued by a private school as international students cannot study at a public school except as part of an exchange program.
Students must then be interviewed at the US embassy in their home country and get the necessary immigration papers. In some cases, students will have to be interviewed several times, complicating the process. This process can be completed in one month, but usually takes 2-3 months.
Once this process is completed, students will be matched with a host family. They will be matched based on the preferences of the student regarding whether they want to be in a family with or without other children or pets, and other factors, as well as the host family’s preferences toward hosting a student of a certain age and gender.
While at EC, international students have a large community to support them including both international and domestic students. One aspect of this is the high school’s International Leadership Team. The International Leadership Team, or ILT, plans events where international and domestic students can get to know each other better. The ILT not only includes international students, but also a number of domestic students. One such domestic student, ILT consul Annie Song, stated that “The main responsibility [of the International Leadership Team] would be to create events to allow international students to further connect with the EC community.” These events include at-school gatherings as well as field trips, such as the recent trip to Ort Farms and intend to foster community among international and domestic students alike. Annie explained her motivation for working on the ILT: “As someone who is Asian American, I have a close understanding of the difficulties of moving to a new country and experiencing culture shock. So I feel, as someone who is also bilingual, like I am in a unique position to be able to help any incoming exchange students and to give them any support they need whether that be socially or culturally or even keeping up with school work.”
It is important to foster social connections with people from other countries and cultures. Ms. Rhyu explained, “I am doing research on how we provide social support for international students and part of it comes from domestic students… That’s why we do these trips and social events, you need to provide the opportunities first.” In regards to how domestic students can support their international peers, Annie said, “It can be in the smallest things, just being there to try to understand them and help in any way they need, being open to learning about an international students culture… any little bit helps.”