Wayland celebrates International Students’ Day

PLAINVIEW — “It takes tremendous courage and faith to be an international student,” said Debbie Stennett, Coordinator of International Student Affairs at Wayland Baptist University

Stennett’s comment comes as Wayland celebrates International Students’ Day on Nov.17, commending the 77 international students enrolled at the university for overcoming significant challenges to obtain graduate or undergraduate degrees.

“I’m still amazed that 17- to 19-year-old kids fly across the globe alone or drive down from Canada or up from Central America without knowing anybody here except maybe a coach and the person on the other end of their emails,” Stennett said.

Wayland currently serves 54 undergraduate and 23 graduate students from 39 countries. Sixty-three international students attend classes on the Plainview campus, while 14 are served at one of Wayland’s external centers. Stennett serves as their designated student officer, ensuring their enrollment and success at Wayland.

“International applicants must submit evaluations of their high school and/or college work through evaluation companies, and they generally run $100 to $200 for each evaluation,” Stennett said of the rigorous application process. “If they come from a country in which English is not the first language, they must submit passing English scores through a variety of measures that again can run $200 to $300.”

Federal law requires international students to prove through family bank statements that they can pay for a year of study and living expenses exceeding any scholarships awarded, the coordinator explained.

“Some work through agents they have to pay to get them through this process,” Stennett said.

International students admitted to Wayland must pay two fees — $350 for immigration processing and $160 for a visa appointment.

“Then, some may wait up to or beyond a year for an embassy visit,” she said. “After all of that, they can be denied a visa after a five to10 minute interview at the embassy.”

Stennett noted some countries simply are not allowing students to leave and there is corruption in some of these instances. Often, students are not told why they weren’t approved for a visa, she said.

“For many, the journey ends,” she said. “Those approved for a visa must then pay for a flight as well as extra vaccinations or chest x-rays.”

The process gets more personal once an international student arrives on campus with Wayland staff members helping them get enrolled and moved into their dorm. Most international students come without dorm or apartment furnishings.

“Various churches have filled in so many gaps for the kids,” Stennett said. “Coaches also work long and hard to make sure the kids are surrounded with helpers.”

By law, international students are not allowed to work off campus, except through special circumstances, so most have little spending money. The coordinator helps international students secure on-campus jobs and helps them locate other resources.

“Just adjusting to U.S. college culture is so challenging,” Stennett said. “Add in homesickness, workouts and travel for athletics, and IT challenges, and it’s a massive emotional and physical hit. It’s a wonder some of them make it beyond a year.”

She said international students are required by law to mainly take face-to-face classes, adding that there is a plethora of regulations each student must follow to maintain their F-1 status.

“Some lose it and have to go home or apply for reinstatement, which takes up to a year for an answer,” the coordinator said. “Overstaying their visa time puts them on a deportation list.”

School breaks offer more challenges for international students, Stennett said.

“Many simply can’t afford to go home for holidays,” she said. “They stay in the dorms or go home with a U.S. friend. We have had students from African nations never go home during their stay here.”

Stennett described the international students at Wayland as “very bright and motivated-beyond-belief kids who know they have one shot at this because nobody at home is going to pay for a repeated class or several degree changes.”

“There’s no dropping out and going home,” the coordinator said. “They are sent to get it done - once.”

Stennett’s job is to make that happen. “My job is to direct them through the admissions process and then try to keep them in status after they are here,” she said.

For Stennett, helping international students is not a job, but a calling.

“I get to see them through,” she said.