For years, Zinaida Dvoskina dreamed of studying and working in the U.S.
A master’s student in business analytics at Northeastern, Dvoskina moved to Boston in 2019 from Russia to pursue an advanced degree, and to be part of the highly diverse network of students that help support and shape the New England city’s thriving economy—many of whom have had to travel halfway across the world to achieve their professional goals.
“The atmosphere here is really unique,” Dvoskina says. “Even though I am a big fan of New York, I knew Boston was the place to study. There really is no better place.”
Dvoskina had her mind set on studying in Boston after having first stayed in the city some eight years ago, when she was enrolled in a summer English as a Second Language learning program.
Incidentally, while an ESL student, Dvoskina had stayed on Northeastern’s Boston campus. The international agency that helped her coordinate the month-long visit recommended at the time that she look into Northeastern’s graduate certificate program in business administration—a “mini-MBA” program that is designed to meet the needs of international students. She immediately took to the idea, and made it a reality some years later, in the months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Soon after arriving in the Bay State, Dvoskina began to feel isolated. Loneliness is common among international students trying to adjust to their new lives abroad as they traverse cultural barriers and make new relationships. But to make matters more complicated, while eyeing employment opportunities post-graduation, Dvoskina said she began noticing that employers would, in job postings, say they do not hire international students. Some outright told her as much.
“There is this issue with perception whenever employers see international students,” she says. “They think they will have to sponsor the visa, sponsor the immigration attorney, spend time and money—and they’re not even sure it will work out anyway.”
What’s often misunderstood, Dvoskina says, is that international students who apply for so-called “optional practical training” don’t actually need sponsorship to work. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency grants up to a year of work authorization for students before they complete their studies.
“Many employers still don’t know that,” Dvoskina. “We actually don’t need anything from them; we just need the job and that’s it.”
Despite the personal and professional hurdles, Dvoskina, over time, began to find her footing. She befriended someone who was involved in Northeastern’s Russian-speaking club; connections there soon blossomed into friendships. Now, she’s planning to move to New York City and shop her résumé. Companies she is interested in working for include Budweiser, Lego, and Ikea.
And as Northeastern continues to expand its global footprint, so, too, do the resources available to students. Jigisha Patel, associate general counsel and chief advisor for International and Immigration Services at Northeastern, says her office frequently hosts international students for information sessions, connecting them with immigration, employment, and intellectual property attorneys.
The university also helps students connect directly with employers, opening up a whole network of opportunities post-graduation.
“We’ve really invested in having support for our community in-house, and that just shows the commitment that we have to our international students, faculty and staff to help them navigate visa sponsorships” and other obstacles, Patel says.
While many of the challenges facing international students are largely unforeseeable, some students have found ways of blunting their impact—even before setting foot on U.S. soil.
For Kirti Jajoo, who is pursuing a master’s in digital marketing at Northeastern, numerous conversations with friends and relatives living in the U.S. helped her make the transition from her native India.
Jajoo arrived in the U.S. on New Year’s Eve 2020 with her fiancé, who is also a student at Northeastern. Jajoo says living in Boston is exactly as she envisioned it.
“It’s all been very exciting,” Jajoo says. “Everyone has their own stories and journeys, which is very interesting to know.”
She’s now hunting for the right co-op. The process can be anxiety-filled for many international students, Jajoo says. But Northeastern has a plethora of resources to help international students through the process, and to connect them with jobs thereafter, she says. After several workshops through the career design studio, and guidance on résumé and cover letter construction, Jajoo says she feels confident in her search for the right opportunity.
Last month, Northeastern hosted an inaugural international student experience conference. It was an effort to bring students, faculty, and staff together to open a dialogue around transition, assimilation, and “boutique employability,” an approach to pitching oneself to potential employers that focuses on the unique skills and experiences a job seeker brings to the table, rather than the prescriptions required in a given role.
The meeting was sponsored by the D’Amore-McKim School of Business’ International Business & Strategy group, and was made possible through an Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion grant.
The conference was meant to highlight the unique qualifications international students bring to an increasingly diverse workforce and professional culture, says Sheila Puffer, university distinguished professor of international business at Northeastern.
“International students have a wealth of resources to bring to the table that are often overlooked and underappreciated,” Puffer says. “This is a message we want to get through to all of our stakeholders in the university community and potential employers.”
Puffer says companies sometimes balk at hiring international help due to the complications surrounding work visas, passing over well-qualified graduates for candidates “in their own networks.”
“Research shows that diverse teams are more creative,” she adds, “and therefore, having a multiplicity of perspectives and backgrounds makes for important contributions to teams both in an academic setting and in the workplace.”
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