Monday, January 25, 2016

Helping international students succeed

A unique international learning environment distinguishes Hawai‘i Pacific University, as an institute of higher learning. For students from other countries, the Office of International Students and Scholars plays a key role in the experience.

Adrienne Gigantino
International students "have an extra step" when doings things like adding or dropping classes, explained Director Adrienne Gigantino. Her office helps students to understand those extra steps and gives guidance about maintaining their immigration status.

"As a university, we have guidelines to follow," she said, adding that the federal government has certain policies and deadlines that international students need to maintain.

These requirements have changed over the years so it's important for students to stay up to date, observed Gigantino, who has 15 years of experience in international education. Students often have questions about immigration status, work authorizations and credit requirements. If anyone — including faculty or staff — has concerns, she's more than happy to help, she said.

"Our main goal is to help our students to be successful their whole time here," she said. "We work closely with faculty members and staff."

Many students visit for a short term. For example, European students — a large population at HPU — come to study in sunny Hawaii, taking advantage of HPU's well-regarded Hospitality and Tourism Management program and the warm weather. Other large visiting groups include Japanese and Saudi students.

HPU also has long-term, degree seeking students who "want to live and learn in the U.S.," she said. "They have a few years to get acclimated to the U.S. and learn about culture, business practices and people."

"We also have internships and practicums that international students can participate in, giving them work experience and credit," she added.

This thriving, international student body contributes to the learning experience. Plus with the world's increasingly connected nature, "You need to be a global student these days," Gigantino said.

"You get a classroom of different opinions. You don't get a U.S.-centric point of view," she said. "You'll be working with different kinds of people. It opens the eyes of domestic students."

She hopes meeting international learners also encourages U.S. students to do the same and study abroad.

For Gigantino, she's enjoyed her career in international education and looks forward to adding more programs and events that encourage social and cultural interaction at HPU.

HPU international students joined Office of International Students and Scholars staff, International Admissions staff, and HPU faculty members for a recent Oahu cruise. The students were able to see whales and learned a little about Hawaiian culture through lei making, hula and ukulele lessons.

"It's my passion to learn about different world cultures," she said. "I learn something new from students every day. That keeps me going."

Hawaii is a wonderful place to do that, she noted. As someone who moved from the East Coast last year, she can relate to visiting students' experiences, as they learn about Hawaii's unique way of life.

She likes to explore Oahu, especially places that aren't usual tourist destinations. "I enjoy walking and checking out different neighborhoods."

"It's a welcoming place," she said. "Hawaii, the people — everyone has been kind and welcoming."

Learn more about the Office of International Students and Scholars at

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