“New York City is the ‘Number One’ destination in the U.S. for international students,” says Matthew Peipert, BMCC’s new Student Life International Student Specialist, in the Office of Student Affairs.
“A lot of them come from halfway across the world. They’re brave, to take that jump. They’re adventurous—and ambitious. For those who come from less advantaged countries, this is their shot. Often, they’re alone, and their families are pooling their entire savings to send them here.”
With so much at stake, he says, international students choose BMCC for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the value BMCC provides.
“There’s a lot of academic support, and the tuition is affordable, even if you are not a New York City resident.”
Another plus, he says, is that “BMCC is a real reflection of New York—I think of New York City as the hotel lobby of the United States. A lot of people start their American experience here—and wherever you’re from, you have access to cultural resources. If you’re from Uzbekistan, you can find an Uzbek community. If you’re from Korea, you can find a Korean community—and these are strong communities, and I think that helps with retention, for international students at BMCC.”
A ‘world-class’ environment
“Simply having been born in another country doesn’t make you an international student,” says Matthew Peipert. “Of course, we welcome students of all immigration statuses, but CUNY defines international students as F1 visa holders.”
There are about 900 international students on the BMCC campus, he says, and a student with an F1 visa must carry a full course load—12 credits—or lose their F1 status. Also, there are some restrictions regarding their leaving the U.S. and returning.
Overall, though, international students share the goals and concerns of their non-immigrant peers. Plus, he says, “These days, if your college or university doesn’t have a strong international component, it’s not really considered ‘world class’.”
“Every good school tries to attract international students. The more perspectives you can bring to a learning environment, the better. Plus, we live in such a globalized world, if you’re not educated in a globalized environment, you might have a harder time advancing your career in a worldwide and culturally diverse economy.”
Lily Yi-Elkin, BMCC’s Director of International & Transfer Services in the Office of Admissions, works with the International Student Services team, which processes international students’ applications, and helps them maintain their visa status.
The team also organizes special workshops on topics such as how to leave and return to the U.S. without jeopardizing immigration status, and how to obtain health insurance.
“We believe in the personal touch,” says Yi-Elkin. “We encourage international students to come talk with us whenever they have any questions about their studies, their immigration status, housing or anything getting in the way of their success as students.”
Matthew Peipert adds that BMCC holds an International Students’ Orientation each semester, and the BMCC Single Stop office “provides free workshops addressing the concerns of any BMCC student who needs to speak to an immigration lawyer. They even have workshops for ‘DACA students’.”
“DACA” stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and “DACA students,” he explains, are undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children and have pursued education or military service.
As for academic support, he says, there is the BMCC Language Immersion for International Students program, or BLIIS, for students holding F1 visas. This intensive program runs for 16 weeks in the summer, and 25 in the winter, and enables participants to maintain their F1 status while preparing for college-level work.
Another support at BMCC is CLIP—the CUNY Language Immersion Program, which is for “non-F1 students for whom English is not a first language,” Peipert says.
Lifelong cultural learning
“I’ve been working with international students for 12 years, and previous to this position I was working with the ESL [English as a Second Language] community,” says Matthew Peipert, adding that he taught ESL in Japan for over five years.
He knows first-hand, what it’s like to be part of a culture within a culture. Born in England to American parents, he grew up in South Africa, Kenya and Texas.
“My dad was a journalist,” Peipert says, explaining why the family lived outside the U.S., and adding that he is happy to be living now, in Astoria, Queens, “one of the most international neighborhoods in New York City.”
The thriving immigrant communities of New York City could well account for why BMCC has more international students than any other community college in the Northeast, according to a study from the Institute of International Studies.
“In addition to students with F1 visas, there are students holding H1-B visas through their employers, or who work as an au pair, on a J1 visa,” says Yi-Elkin.
“Whatever their visa status, in addition to language support and other services, we guide them to scholarship opportunities,” she adds, “because international students are not usually eligible for federal financial aid. We also alert them to opportunities like student clubs related to their home country, or simply focused on their subject major and other interests students share.”