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iGrad helps arriving global students

For Xu “Rachel” He, MA ’15, it wasn’t a hard decision to work for the International Graduate Transition Leadership Program—the same program that helped her shift into Emerson life when she arrived here from China in December.

“As an incoming student, I had a lot of questions,” He said. “As peers, we know what problems they may encounter better than, say, professors.”



Xu “Rachel” He, MA ’15, became an iGrad leader to help incoming international graduate students to Emerson after she received help from the program last December, when she arrived from China. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

The program, better known as iGrad, is in its second year at Emerson. Five volunteers—four of which are international students who have attended classes for at least one semester—assist incoming international students with any questions they might have. That can be everything from housing to health forms to public transit passes.

“International graduate students often find the search for off-campus housing daunting,” said Cathryn Cushner Edelstein, scholar-in-residence of the Communication Studies Department, who oversees the iGrad program with Richard Zauft, dean of graduate studies.

“Finding an apartment or temporary housing thousands of miles away is made somewhat easier with the help of iGrad leaders,” Cushner Edelstein said.

This month the iGrad leaders are connecting with 90 incoming international students by email before they arrive, and in person once they get to Boston. There were 76 international students at Emerson in 2010.

He said finding housing was a major issue for her, as well.

“[My iGrad leader] lives in Allston, and told me it was a really convenient neighborhood,” she said. “There’s a really big Chinese supermarket, and she knew I may use it. It’s also not far from Emerson because you can take the Green Line [train.]”

He is excited to help her 18 international students find housing.

“One of my students searched for an apartment on the Internet but couldn’t see it in person, so I went to the apartment to take pictures and video for her,” He said.

Nicholas Persad, MA ’14, an iGrad leader originally from Trinidad and Tobago, points students to neighborhoods that are welcoming to young adults.

“I like to advise them on areas that are suitable for students based on the commute or the type of people who live there,” Persad said, “like young professionals or students.”



Nicholas Persad, MA ’14, is an iGrad leader originally from Trinidad and Tobago. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

A Somerville resident, Persad often steers graduate students toward Cambridge or Allston.

The majority of this year’s students are from China, but several other nations are represented, including Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, India, Portugal, South Africa, Venezuela, Honduras, and Italy.

Many of the students are connecting through the Emerson Accepted Graduate Students’ Facebook page, to answer questions and arrange social gatherings. However, because Facebook is banned in China, many Chinese students are using a mobile app called QQ.

Maria Cavaliere, MA ’14, the program’s first domestic iGrad leader who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, said, “It’s always exciting to learn about other cultures.”

“They ask what the attractions of Boston are, and what they should do in their downtime,” she said. “I tell them about the Public Garden and the waterfront; there are so many things to do that are free and convenient to the Emerson campus.”



Maria Cavaliere, MA '14, is the first domestic student participating in the year-old iGrad program. (Photo by Dan O'Brien)

The iGrad leaders were trained by Cushner Edelstein and several Emerson administrators from offices that are directly involved with the international students, including Graduate Studies, Diversity and Inclusion, Off-Campus Student Services, Graduate Admission, Health and Wellness, International Student Affairs, Lacerte Family Writing and Academic Resource Center, and the Student Service Center.

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