In the 19th century, social unrest had finally permeated through Dutch parliament as the masses flooded the streets. Labor Unions formed, child labor laws were abolished and parliamentary member Samuel Van Houten pioneered the fight for socialist reform. This marked a time of grave uncertainty for the working class as changes happened slowly and sporadically, causing the economy to slow to a screeching halt. In 1854 a group of migrant workers braved the Atlantic in hope of a better life, finally settling in Michigan. One of these Immigrants was Sake Hofstra.
After arriving in Michigan, Hofstra and his family would move from town to town, doing odd jobs to get by. Sake’s son, William Sake Hofstra, grew up in half-way homes and hotel rooms, working closely with his father after his mother’s passing. After his first failed marriage in Colorado, William travelled to New Orleans where he met Kate Williams, a wealthy widow from Massachusetts. The two married shortly after meeting and settled in New York after purchasing the Van Wrecken estate. Hofstra had wandered his whole life, but he had finally found a home in Hempstead. After studying here for three years, I can safely say that the international student population suffer from the same curse of our institution’s namesake.
Compared to other universities, Hofstra falls flat when it comes to the needs of their international students. There are close to no opportunities for students to properly assimilate into American culture, little financial aid is offered for those without citizenship and making friends beyond your international clique is incredibly difficult. These are things I’ve learned through first-hand experience.
During the international students’ orientation, each student is assigned into a group led by a “global mentor.” This mentor oversaw the group throughout the orientation and any questions I had about living in New York could only be directed at him. My mentor missed the first day of orientation and my group was stuck uncomfortably between awkward first impressions and a language barrier. The second day there were no activities planned, but we had to watch a riveting three hour presentation on the laws of immigration in the U.S. On the last day, they fed us, we all exchanged numbers and we were ready to begin at university, or at least Hofstra’s delineation of the word “ready.” When a soldier is deployed without proper training it’s called “baptism by fire,” similarly we were all metaphorically soaked in gasoline on our way out of orientation.
I consider myself one of the fortunate ones. I come from a country that speaks English and the cultural differences aren’t too drastic. Most of the international student populationcome from non-English speaking countries whose cultures are far from the tenets of the American norms. Almost all these students sign up for tutors at Hofstra’s English Learning Program (ELP). Learning the language is without a question the most important part of assimilation, but Hofstra again misses the mark superbly.
My semester as a ELP tutor solidified my views of the administration – the office of cultural affair’s most important program is overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded. During my time as a tutor I was not paid, which I didn’t mind because I understood the situation some of these students were in. I even took up to four students for the entire semester, which added more of a workload to my already busy schedule. Tutoring sessions went exactly same, after talking about homework we’d talk sports, stuff to do around Hofstra or even places to go in the city. What these students wanted more than anything was to fit in. My job description went from being an English tutor to filling in as a guide. Our sessions became more like hangouts in the weeks that followed and to this day I still keep in contact with them. The tutors in the ELP unintentionally became the global mentors we were promised.
For a university whose namesake was a part of a nomadic immigrant family, you would expect the administration to go above and beyond the call of duty, yet, while Hofstra has the privilege of preaching the word diversity, it does close to nothing for the international student population. William Sake Hofstra wandered all his life in an unfamiliar country but found home in this same estate where we study. This institution should be a sanctuary for every creed, race and religion but we continue to struggle to breach the gap between them.
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