Ray Seol, assistant professor of Professional Music, provides an insight into his research on international students’ lived experiences.

Twenty-three years ago, I arrived in the US, fueled by a dream of becoming the world’s premier jazz bassist. My music college was a tight-knit community where I was one of only three international students. This unique position allowed me to collaborate with a variety of ensembles. However, I bitterly realized that it wasn’t necessarily because of my diverse background, but primarily due to the limited number of bassists available. Those collaborations were some of the highlights of my time there. Yet, that period also brought its challenges. Being among the few international students, it was evident that the college lacked the infrastructure to support our unique needs. Beyond the international office that handled my I-20 stamp, there wasn’t much else in terms of assistance. Fast forward to today, I’m at Berklee, arguably the most renowned music college globally. Here, I see a vibrant community of international students, each chasing their dreams. What’s even more commendable is the robust support system Berklee has in place for them, showcasing how far we’ve come in understanding and catering to the needs of international students.

In my recent research regarding career development challenges for international students, many identified cultivating a sense of belonging as one of the primary issues they face. Despite being enrolled in their dream music colleges, many don’t feel a true connection to the institution. This sentiment has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has led to both physical and emotional isolation for many. The feedback from these students underscores an essential point. It’s not just about understanding their unique cultures and integrating them into our educational system. It’s about creating avenues for them to connect deeply with the college and its surrounding community. Faculty members, along with all administrators who are often the first point of contact and ongoing supporters, play a critical role. Creating spaces where students feel truly connected and integral to the community is paramount. Pairing this sense of belonging with a curriculum that integrates international perspectives will significantly elevate the experience and support we offer to international students.

I would like to cite a quote from a student’s interview that illustrates this sense of belonging. While it already exists to some degree, we need to examine more closely how colleges can genuinely support this need. I am quite sure that Berklee’s International Education Week will serve as a significant anchor point. Through it, we can raise awareness of the richness that international experiences can bring to a college and brainstorm more ideas and resources for everyone’s benefit.

Local players are very friendly. They don’t care if you are from America or not. They are just friendly. Even if you have some language problems or grammar mistakes, they just listen to you…