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Foreign students feel welcome in Pratt

12 March 2019
Story by, By Gale Rose,, Pratt Tribune

Pratt Community College is home to 27 international students this year, welcomed by host families, admissions counselors, fellow students and coaches, all whom assist in their successful transitions to central Kansas.

They make up a small percentage of the total enrollment but foreign students bring their unique culture to the campus at Pratt Community College.
Elyse Birdsong, associate director of admissions, said there are 27 foreign students currently attending PCC. Of those students, 23 are student athletes with the majority in the men’s soccer program.

Right now, PCC has 27 foreign students. Last year they had 29 and the yearly average is 30 give or take a few, Birdsong said. The numbers remain steady and do not reflect a recent statewide focus on diminishing diversity at larger college campuses because of perceived political climate.

International students at PCC said they feel welcome in Pratt. This breakdown of where this year’s group comes from is as follows: Australia-6 (5 basketball, 1 baseball), Great Britain-4 (men’s soccer), Canada-2 (1 men’s soccer, 1 baseball), Brazil-2 (men’s soccer), Turkmenistan-2 (non-athletes), Italy-2 (men’s soccer), Serbia-2 (men’s basketball), Trinidad and Tobago-2 (track), Canada-2 (1 men’s soccer and 1 baseball), Spain-1 (men’s soccer), Ireland-1 (men’s soccer), Germany-1 (non-athlete, rodeo manager), Bahamas-1 (women’s soccer), Nigeria-1 (non-athlete). Non-athlete majors include art/graphic design, pre-nursing and agribusiness.
Most of the foreign students come directly from their home country but two basketball players from Serbia were already in America and attending community college in Florida but transferred to PCC, Birdsong said.

Freshman Isabella Battaglia is from Rowville, Australia. She is studying psychology and is on the women’s soccer team. Like most international students, she went through an agency in her home country that prepares and distributes videos of athletes playing and sends resumes to colleges all over the United States.
Battaglia’s coach is Ashely Burnett who is from Scotland and was an international student at Hutchinson Community College and Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Battaglia said because her coach had been through the same process, she understands what students go through.

Battaglia said the coach gets along with everyone and the players can talk to her about anything. She is a promising coach and a great role model for the team.
“I wanted to see what it was like to be coached by her,” Battaglia said. “She’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for.”

Battaglia said her experience at PCC has been really good. If she needs help with academics, its always available. She has made new friends from America and from around the world. The biggest challenge she has faced is adapting to the culture, the food, the prices and the temperature.

“It’s a lot colder here. It doesn’t snow back home at all,” Battaglia said.

Foreign students have to meet certain requirements to attend PCC. Students have to go through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System to get the necessary Visas to come to America and to PCC. Birdsong is the Principal Designated School Official for foreign students and helps students work their way through SEVIS. Students have required information they have to send to Birdsong including their passport information, English proficiency status and other information.

Students also have to have a declared major. It can’t just be general studies, they have to be working for a specific degree so when the go home they can be a benefit to their country. Students go threw their countries embassy during the application procedure.

Once Birdsong gets the information, she issues an I 20, that is a certificate of eligibility for emigrant status. The student takes the I 20 to their embassy for final approval. Usually, students have no problem getting a visa, Birdsong said.

Battaglia said once she got all the paperwork in order, the process was all good.

Birdsong said three of the non-athlete students participated in foreign exchange programs during high school and had such a good experience they wanted to return to the United States after graduating from high school.

A student from Turkmenistan took part in the high school foreign exchange program in Michigan. The cold weather there was so drastically different there then her home county that she wanted to go somewhere with a little warmer climate and more affordable which led her to PCC. Both Turkmenistan students received “Top Up Scholarship” through American Councils and chose PCC because of its affordability, weather and central location in the U.S.

Once they get here, if they have an issue with a Visa, Birdsong is their initial contact. She consults with a regional representative for international students.
International students at PCC can live in either a residence hall or some will live in private homes. It helps ease the financial burden for the students and helps them deal with being homesick.

Birdsong said there are three levels of host homes for international students.

Level One: Students live with the family the entire school year. They are provided two meals a day and transportation back and forth from school.

Level Two: Students live with the family over Christmas break from mid December to Mid January. For some international students, its too expensive to fly home and back for the break and Level Two works well for them. Some students opt to go home with friends over break.

Level Three: Host homes invite students home for dinner once or twice a month, take them to events and interact with the student as a mentor.

If an international student attends PCC for two years, they usually go home during the summer break. Sometimes they stay and apply for an internships within their course of study, sometimes they get a job and sometimes they enroll for summer school and can remain in the residence halls.

The college is seeking participants in the host home program. Anyone interested can contact Birdsong at 620-450-2114 or elyseb@prattcc.edu.

Foreign students interested in information about PCC can visit their website. For information on SEVIS, visit studyinthestates.dhs.gov that is part of the Homeland Security website.