In today’s climate and culture, it is important to build a good relationship with your International Student Services Office (ISSO) even before you meet with a student. If you have a strong advocate at the ISSO, your group will have more trust attached to it and be less likely to face difficulties with the administration. These are some tips and ideas for building a strong relationship with your ISSO.
1 Timothy 2:1-3: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
Prayer is always the first thing to turn to. Pray for your school, for the administration, and for the ISSO. Once you meet them, pray specifically for the people you meet. Remember that you are not just ministering to the students, but also to the campus (which includes the ISSO). Seek to see God’s kingdom advanced there as well!
Understand Their Side of the Cubicle
Think about their goals and motivations. They care about international students just as you do – that’s why they’re in this job! Look at ways you can partner together to work with them and for them. Many times the ISSO is understaffed and overworked. Your organization of events may be a blessing to them!
Also take time to think about how they see the students. They want their students to return home without losing their core values and culture. In this way, they may see Christians as a threat to other cultures. Reaffirming your desire to celebrate diverse cultures may help allay their fears.
Meeting with the ISSO
Set up a time to meet with someone in the office. Be prepared going into the meeting. Evaluate your group and look at it from an administrative viewpoint. How many volunteers do you have? What can you, as a group, offer to the office? Do you bring revenue in to fund your own programs, or will you be relying on the office? Knowing these things beforehand will keep the conversation running smoothly and assure them that you are a capable group to work with. Familiarize yourself with NAFSA. Having strong ties with faculty members can also add weight and authority to your position.
Be ready to discuss your organization. What have you done in the past? What are your values. How do you choose your volunteers, and how are they trained? Come with an open mind and listen to critique the ISSO may have for you. Remember that a negative experience with one religious group is likely to impact how they react to all religious groups, so be aware of issues there may have been on campus in the past. Be open about your religious affiliation.
One way to put the ISSO more at ease with your group is by showing them InterVarsity’s Code of Ethics and asking your volunteers to sign it. This will assure the ISSO of your belief in the inherent dignity of and respect due to all people. If you do have the opportunity to work with the ISSO, don’t overpromise yourself. It is more beneficial to do something better than expected than to do worse.
Truly seek to have relationships with the people at the ISSO. Remember that you are there to serve!