WSU student group helps international students navigate life in Spokane

The Association of International and Intercultural Students of Health Sciences board, photographed in early March, are (l-r): Keti Bardhi (lower left); Farheen Shaikh (upper left); Yuening Liu; Ruby Siegel; Mahamadul (Maha) Haque; Shamema Nasrin; and Peter Obi.

When Shamema Nasrin and her husband moved from Bangladesh to Spokane to attend the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, they didn’t know how to drive.

They didn’t know how to use a swipe card, pay taxes, or how to register for a Social Security number, which is required of international students.

“Everything was new,” Nasrin said recently of the couple’s experiences when they arrived in 2015. She and her husband both were pursuing doctoral degrees at WSU Health Sciences Spokane.

To help a growing number of international students attending the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Nasrin and other students formed the Association of International and Intercultural Students of Health Sciences in the fall.

Members of the group’s board come from five countries. Though all attend the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Nasrin said they hope to include students from other programs on the Health Sciences campus in time.

“The starting point for me was that we need to do something for international students to help them transition from a whole different culture,” Nasrin said.

The registered student organization started by pairing up international students with American students to learn the bus system and find grocery stores and other services.

Because securing housing is another issue that’s difficult for international students, group members have offered to tour apartments and send photos and application forms to prospective students, Nasrin said.

Nasrin credited the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences for creating a welcoming atmosphere for international students. The association also works closely with WSU Health Sciences’ Student Diversity Center, which has helped focus the group’s activities, she said.

“We are so proud of Shamema and her husband, Maha, who have created a home away from home in our community,” said Interim Dean Linda Garrelts MacLean, who has mentored the couple since they arrived at the College. “The faculty, staff and students in the college and campus have built a supportive environment that embraces international students and adds to the substance of our academic community.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new uncertainty to the lives of international students, Nasrin said.

“As international students we’re worried about what’s happening in our home countries and what will happen next with us,” she said, citing possible visa concerns.

But the members of the Association of International and Intercultural Students of Health Sciences are continuing to work on behalf of fellow students, now compiling a resource guide.

“We’re still answering questions for international students and are collecting information and links that we’re updating regularly,” Nasrin said. “We’re also preparing for events to benefit students when things get back to normal. It’s a unique time for all of us.”

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