Nicholas Arrindell, director of the Office of International Student/Scholar Services at Homewood, is used to fielding questions from foreign students concerning aspects of American culture, their finances or their visa status. Following the events of Sept. 11, however, he has had some new questions coming his way.
"One student asked me if the university has a crisis management plan in place," Arrindell says. "I told him we did. I had to reassure him we are looking after his interests."
According to officials at various Johns Hopkins international student offices, reassurance is what a lot of the university's sizable visiting population is looking for in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Currently, there are about 3,100 undergraduate and graduate students from other countries studying at the Homewood, SAIS, Peabody and JHMI campuses, about 240 of them from Middle Eastern countries. Chief among students' concerns are the ability to travel, both domestically and internationally, and their personal safety while studying here.
Cynthia Toussaint, assistant registrar and foreign student adviser at the School of Advanced International Studies, says her office has never been busier. SAIS currently has 248 international students at its D.C. campus.
Toussaint says that overall the students are "coping rather well," but that hasn't stopped them from filing through her door.
"There is a lot of uncertainty going around for all our students, but especially our international ones," Toussaint says. "The general fear has to do with being in Washington. Since we were closer to the events of Sept. 11, there is a sense this might be a dangerous place to be because it was a target." Toussaint says that most of those who have come to see her just wanted to know that somebody was there to listen to their concerns.
"They are in a foreign country a long way from home. That can be very stressful at a time like this," Toussaint says. "Coming in to see us provides a sort of grounding for them."
The two most common services Toussaint's office is providing are advising students on their travel plans and allowing them to use its phones to contact family back home.
Toussaint says she is advising students what to expect when they travel. "Our office is being extremely careful on this front," Toussaint says. "We are taking extreme pains to make sure all their documents are in order if they plan to travel at any time in the near future."
Arrindell describes the response from Homewood's 1,205 international students to be "fairly low-key" as far as his office is concerned. He says one student has left the university due to safety concerns related to the terrorist attacks, but overall the tone has been "business as usual."
"The first two weeks following the event, we kept later hours, expecting a rush of students to come in for advising appointments. But only a handful have come in," Arrindell says. "Whether or not many of our students have concerns I really can't say, but things have been rather quiet here." One possible explanation, he speculates, is that the students have utilized other resources, such as the Interfaith Center and the Office of Counseling Services.
Arrindell says his office currently is examining what the terrorist attacks mean for foreign nationals who wish to study at Hopkins in the future. In particular, Arrindell points out recently proposed legislation that would put a six-month moratorium on student visas.
"The worst thing we can do is shut down our ability to reach out and do what we do best in terms of higher education," says Arrindell, referring to bringing top-notch international scholars to Hopkins. "Things are very much in a tenuous state right now. We are keeping a finger on the pulse of the government's response to terrorism."
At Peabody, where one-third of the student population comes from outside the United States, including six from the Middle East, the response has been largely an emotional one, according to Janice Shannon, director of Peabody's Office of International Student Affairs.
"There has been an outpouring of sympathy for Americans from our international population, " Shannon says. "Some are concerned about traveling, not sure if they will or not. But we haven't had anybody requesting to leave the school and return home."
The university's largest international student population resides at the JHMI campus, a group of more than 1,500. Murray G. Welsh, director of JHMI's Office of International Student, Faculty and Staff Services, was overseas when the tragedy occurred. Welsh says she immediately contacted her office and began to craft a broadcast message to apprise internationals of what to do and not to do.
"I told our students and fellows to be careful about travel, to make sure they came to see our office if they had any upcoming travel plans, whether domestic or international," Welsh says. "There is lots of documentation they need to take with them, extra documentation that we would not normally require them to have, so there can be no question as to their legitimacy of being in the U.S."
The broadcast message also advised individuals to be cautious about interacting with reporters, signing petitions, traveling around the city unaccompanied and displaying flags of any nation.
"We were trying to limit any type of reprisal there might be on them, for whatever reason," Welsh says. "Fortunately, we have not had anything negative happen."
For Hopkins' 78 students studying abroad, travel and safety concerns have been on their minds as well, according to Ruth Aranow, senior academic adviser and study abroad coordinator.
Aranow says that after Sept. 11 two students decided to cancel their plans of participating in exchange programs. Others expressed reservations about traveling abroad, she says.
"I told them, in a sense, there is no true safe place in terms of this current crisis," Aranow says. "We are all equally safe and unsafe. When it comes to terrorism, you just don't know."
The majority of the students studying abroad this semester have arrived at their host institutions, Aranow says, and have since contacted her.
"They tell me the schools are taking all kinds of measures to make sure they don't stick out while they are studying there, just as a safety precaution," Aranow says. "And they are receiving a lot of counseling on how to handle themselves."