Rory Lyon McFadden, Berklee’s international education coordinator and recent alum, introduces her work with the Berklee International Student Advisory Board. 

With an international student population that represents over 100 different countries and forty percent of Berklee’s student body, the need for a student-led advisory board advocating for international student support and success was well past due. 

When Roberto Arruda came to me with the idea to create an international student advisory board, we hit the ground running immediately, thus designing the “BISAB” or Berklee International Student Advisory Board. While I was able to base some of the board descriptions and goals around those of other universities with similar programs, I also had to incorporate the unique challenges that international students at Berklee face—working in the music industry as non-citizens. Interest in the board spread quickly. By the beginning of the fall 2023 semester, the board was finalized with 11 members, all of whom represent different countries, cultures, backgrounds, and musical styles.

The first few meetings with the new board members largely entailed hearing feedback from the students surrounding the International Student Services team, navigating Berklee and Boston as an international student, and their ideas around support that was still needed and desired. While the board will aid in the planning of events such as movie nights and mixers for international students, they will also help to work towards sharing accurate information and providing guidance around different processes on campus. The desire for clearer information on the legalities around gigging and releasing music as an international student has been a top concern.

As I’ve gotten to know the board members, their backgrounds, and their personal experiences, I’ve realized how different the international student experience is for each individual. The board consists of students that represent countries such as Canada, Colombia, Germany, the region of Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Turkey. They have brought up differences in backgrounds, culture, and prior exposure to American culture that have shaped the way they navigate life in the states as students. They’ve also raised numerous comments regarding the lack of clarity on so many guidelines that international students are required to know and follow.

“Dense.” This is the word many board members used to describe Berklee’s International Student Services website, which provides hordes of legal information to students, ranging from information on F-1 visas to legal ramifications for status violation. While this website is a powerful tool for international students to find accurate legal information, it became clear that many students were not utilizing the site at all. One of the many goals of the BISAB team is to create social media posts and reels aimed at directing students to the resources Berklee has for them, while also being engaging, student-centered, and straightforward. The BISAB Instagram page is starting to gain traction and will eventually become a key resource where international students can find and register for events, view impending deadlines, and find guidance to more resources and support.

Our most recent project focused on creating informational reels for Instagram. The board split into groups of four to focus on the following topics: I-20 General Information, F-1 Visa General Information, F-1 Status Violations, and Student Employment Options. The groups were given guiding questions to help aid in their research, with the intent of creating a script for a 45-60 second educational and interactive video. After the research and scripts were completed, the International Student Services team took time to review the information, ensure its accuracy, and add any additional notes, comments, or information. The groups are now creating their reels, which will be uploaded to the BISAB Instagram account to direct fellow students to find more information on these topics on the ISS website. 

While some may stray away from using social media to spread important information, the BISAB is meeting students where they are in order to ensure that needed information is accessible, engaging, and seen by all students. Select members from the BISAB will host a panel on performance opportunities for international students on Monday, November 13, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. at 921 Boylston Street, room 410, for International Education Week.

You can find the full IEW schedule here.

Rory Lyon McFadden (she/they)
International Education Coordinator, Berklee
B.M. 2021, Music Education, Songwriting
M.M. 2022, Music Production, Technology, and Innovation