by Lauren Erath (CSP Marketing & Communications Intern)
After only one year of working at Concordia University, Thomas Allen, Director of International Student Services and winner of CSP’s 2014 Leadership Award, has helped increase the university’s international student population from four to 115.
This impressive increase is thanks to Allen’s personal method of introducing international students to Concordia.
“I take a person-centered approach, really focusing on individual relationships across borders, across cultures, across languages and seeing commonalities, but also really valuing differences in others,” Allen explained. “I’ve developed fantastic relationships with each student.”
Since international students come from diverse cultures with unique communication styles, Allen has to utilize a variety of communication skills paired with his excellent cultural competence to connect with students. Sometimes this results in insightful and amusing conversations, such as when Allen asked an international student where they received a caramel apple sucker.
Allen had asked about the sucker expecting to receive a direct answer and perhaps get a sucker as well. However, the student, coming from Saudi Arabian heritage, interpreted the statement differently and replied with a 7-8 minute explanation of how he attained the sucker, including two detailed trips to Target.
“Right when he started on the story I realized that we were using two different communication styles,” Allen said, noting that the student used a circular communication style common to his country. “It’s enjoyable to then stop and kind of acknowledge those differences and bring them out into the open to explore what they mean and learn more from them.”
Allen focuses on helping students transition smoothly into campus life. One way he does this is by regulating immigration compliance issues with SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) to ensure that students fulfill US regulation requirements so they can study without legal interference. He also manages student enrollment.
He works with students from seven different countries, including Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Canada, the Bahamas, Korea, Qatar and the United Kingdom.
“Each day feels as though I’m studying abroad,” he admitted. “It’s really fun to leave home in the morning then really immerse myself in a new world.”
While he continues to learn about Concordia’s international students and their cultures, Allen encourages students and staff to do the same. He emphasizes that since the world is becoming increasingly globalized, it is important for both traditional and international students to learn how to work alongside each other and overcome their language and culture barriers.
“Don’t jump to any type of assumptions but use very descriptive questions to interact with your fellow classmates,” Allen advised Concordia’s students, “You’ll continue to learn just as much in the classroom as you will learn out of the classroom through these interactions.”