Temple Sparks #YouAreWelcomeHere Campaign for International Students
Following expressions of apprehension by some international students about studying in the U.S., American colleges and universities are coming together to make prospective students feel welcome through a #YouAreWelcomeHere social media campaign including video messaging. The first video, created by Study Group, was a compilation of several different universities. In November, after making its own video with messages from students, faculty and staff, Temple University advanced the idea into a national campaign. To date, more than 40 colleges and universities are participating.
A conversation with Temple’s Director of International Admissions, Jessica Sandberg, explains what the campaign is all about and Temple’s leadership role in sparking this higher education grassroots movement.
The #YouAreWelcomeHere trend has really picked up speed on social media lately. What's it all about?
Jessica Sandberg: “It’s a message of welcome from U.S. higher education to international students around the world. It’s a way for us to let students know that our institutions are diverse, friendly, safe and committed to their development. More importantly, we want to demonstrate that this sentiment is shared throughout our campus communities. The photo and video messages feature students, faculty, and staff from many different backgrounds delivering the same statement. The repetition of this welcoming message has a powerful effect, I think. In the videos, especially, you feel the genuine enthusiasm of the participants. You can sense the emotion and caring that went into producing them.”
What was your role in getting the campaign off the ground?
JS: “I first saw Study Group’s video and use of the #YouAreWelcomeHere hashtag when someone posted it to a private Facebook group for international educators. It blew me away and I immediately called our marketing team to see if we could create our own video expressing this sentiment. I checked the corresponding hashtag activity and saw that it was being used as a general message in support of diversity but it wasn’t associated with higher education. I thought there was a great opportunity for U.S. higher education to amplify the message and really bring it to life. I believed the more universities that participated, the stronger the statement would become.
"At international conferences and across professional networks, I began promoting the campaign. Many fellow international educators embraced the idea and soon began to use the hashtag in videos and other messages across social media. To date, there are 19 published videos and several dozen universities using the hashtag across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. The hashtag is also being promoted on U.S. State Department channels (Education USA, IIE, Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs, etc.).”
What response have you received from students about the video?
JS: “Students have expressed gratitude and relief. I observed one young woman from Eastern Europe shed a tear when she watched it for the first time. Several students told me the video was especially reassuring to their parents. Parents living overseas are at a disadvantage because the images they see in the news tend to be the most inflammatory and don’t accurately reflect daily life in the U.S. The video helps them see that there are many people on campus every day that are happy to support their children.”
What are international students primarily concerned about and how do you address those concerns?
JS: “There’s a general feeling of worry that they might find the U.S. less welcoming or safe. In response, we talk to students about the diverse community and global connections that have long been part of Temple’s identity. We also point to the cosmopolitan city of Philadelphia where we are located. We emphasize the safeguards that have always been in place here, which protect students’ emotional and physical well-being, such as the Office of International Student Affairs and Temple’s Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership (IDEAL).
"Some students also have practical concerns about changes to the student visa program and/or their ability to pursue an internship during their studies. To address those worries, we remind students that there is a great deal of bipartisan support for bringing international students to the United States. In addition to the obvious cultural benefits, their presence supports our national economy. While we cannot predict future changes to immigration legislation, we know that such changes tend to happen slowly and we feel confident that the value of international students will be addressed in any such reforms.”
So what message would you give to a student overseas who is considering a U.S. education but is worried about some of the sentiments they’ve heard or seen expressed recently?
JS: “I would say that the choice to study outside your country is a choice to embrace the unfamiliar. Ask anyone who’s lived abroad and they will tell you that they had great adventures, formed deep friendships, learned valuable lessons about the world, and developed as a scholar and as a person. Those are certainly the benefits of studying abroad. But if pressed, most people will also admit that their experience involved some uncertainty and discomfort. Embracing and overcoming this discomfort is one of the richest benefits of study abroad. It’s how you come to understand your place in the world and the direction you want to chart your course in the future. It’s also a way for nations to conduct people-to-people diplomacy.
"As William J. Fulbright, founder of the Fulbright program, once said, the goal of educational exchange is ‘…to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby to increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.’"