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International Golden Gopher Parents

Khaled Abdelfatah and Azza Taher

While excited, parents often have concerns when helping their children move in at the University of Minnesota for the first time. These worries can be even greater for parents of international students. To help, International Student and Scholar Services, the UMN Parent and Family Program, and Orientation and First-Year Programs (OFYP) jointly offer an International Parent Orientation Program (iPoP) and Chinese Parent Orientation Program (ChiPoP)

Azza Taher and Khaled Abdelfatah, Radiation Oncology physician and professor at Cairo University and acomputer networking senior manager engineer, attended iPoP in 2015 when their son, Omar Abdelfatah, began school in the College of Science and Engineering.

1. Why did you register for the International Parent Orientation Program (iPoP)?
A: We felt really excited to attend iPoP. Our aim was to meet with staff members from ISSS and Parent & Family Program, hoping to have more focused, in-depth information addressing issues unique to international parents.

2. What were your favorite parts of iPoP?
A: Our favorite part was hearing from the group of international students who shared their experience and answered a lot of our questions regarding adapting [to life and school the United States], interacting with others, and worries. Each student answered the same question from his or her own perspective, giving us a deeper understanding of that topic.

3. What the most helpful pieces of information you learned?
A: It was helpful to realize that the UMN has staff and counselors dedicated to working with international students who are ready and willing to pitch in whenever they are called upon.

Another important piece of information was learning about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the delicacy of how to discuss and request parental access to our son’s account, and to accept that Omar is now in charge of [his] own future and decisions.

5. What concerns did you have for your son? How did iPoP help?
iPoP helped ease most of our worries and concerns [about our son starting school at the UMN and in the U.S.] in the sense that most concerns are transient and can be overcome. We, as most parents, were concerned about Omar adapting, fitting in, and feeling homesick. More specifically regarding our son, we know that he is an introvert, and, despite the fact that the ISSS office has excellent experienced staff, he might not reach out and ask for help or assistance.

At iPoP, we were encouraged to stay in touch and listen attentively to him and to be very alert and trust our institution in sensing any changes or problems. UMN staff also said that, if worse comes to worst, we could call the ISSS office and relay our concerns. They said we could ask that a counselor check on him or try to get in touch, and they would do so, while respecting the code of privacy and the limitation of whatever parent access he has given us. It was a big relief to know that, in case of extreme emergency, the office is willing to reach out to him.

In a more general sense, the way the speakers addressed different issues showed that ISSS and UMN staff are all dedicated to helping international students fit in and succeed.

6. If you could give one piece of advice to other parents of new international students, what would it be?
A: My secret is to visualize Omar in the awesome UMN settings we saw when visiting campus, whether walking or biking between buildings, lying on his loft, eating in the dining hall, or socializing in Coffman Union. I also keep in mind that all [UMN students] are in safe hands and well looked after, with every minor detail in mind, may it be academic, physical, social or safety issues.

7. Have you communicated with Omar since he started school? How have you done that (email, phone, video call, or another method)?
Omar created a WhatsApp group [a mobile app to text and share photos] for the four of us [Omar’s father, mother, and sister], and he posts interesting news, updates, or photos. We talk on the phone once a week.

We try not to impose ourselves too much, yet so far we are satisfied that he is sharing news and events, and feedback about his classes and workload. He confirmed that it is quite challenging to keep up with all the coursework, yet he found the balance between studying and recharging by joining the ballroom dance club—it turned out to be a new passion for him.

8: What are your hopes for Omar as he goes through college?
We definitely hope that Omar opens up to this very exciting new life experience. He is very ambitious and committed, so may he prosper and indulge in class, dorm, and extracurricular activities.

9: Is there anything else you would like to share?
[When looking at schools] Omar and his dad performed rank-based research regarding top U.S. Engineering schools and top Computer Engineering degrees. From the start, Omar had been impressed by the general information that characterizes UMN: a big city with public transportation system, options of finding off campus job and internship opportunities, clean environment, bike-friendly.

We were impressed by all the details Omar shared from the UMN site as he was making his shortlist of which U.S. universities to apply to. When we arrived on campus and attended all of the events offered to us as parents, we realized that UMN does deliver everything that it promises to. We are really happy that Omar ended up at the University of Minnesota to pursue his dream to study in one of the top U.S. universities.

Date Published: February 2016

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