Nick Battiste, assistant director of international student services, at the international student orientation on August 24, 2023.
Nick Battiste has visited, lived, or worked on four continents and well knows the difficulties and great rewards of delving into a new place.
“When you get there it’s really exciting. But after a few weeks, the fairy-tale feeling kind of wears off,” says Battiste, assistant director of international student services at Saint Rose. “But as you adjust, you learn to love the differences.”
Battiste has traveled to 27 countries, many on his own or without knowing the language. He taught in Denmark and Bolivia and helped administer federal Fulbright programs. Today, he devotes himself to travel education.
As head of international studies, Battiste supports 130 or so Saint Rose students from more than 40 countries here at any one time. His responsibilities range from planning cultural celebrations to navigating visa applications. Battiste is also reviving study-abroad programs suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here, he discusses food shopping in Bolivia, the return of faculty-led tours, and his office’s plans for the coming year:
How have Americans’ perspectives on the world changed?
Once, we saw developing countries as after-thoughts. We didn’t really want to know about Asia or Africa or South America. It’s [like] that old saying, “if you don’t know something, you fear something.”
But by the early 2000s, people in the U.S. were more interested in cultures beyond Europe. Media brings us live coverage from anywhere in the world; thanks to digital technology, we can literally work from anywhere. This generation is much more interested in global music and food. We have pushed out of our comfort zones.
And being uncomfortable is part of the experience?
In developing countries, you can be very much on your own. My Spanish is weak and there have been times in Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia when there were no signs in English and I couldn’t find help.
In the Bolivian town I was in, they didn’t have grocery stores. Everything is an outdoor market. They have animals hanging from strings. The feathers aren’t plucked, the fur is still on. I had to clean my own animals at home, with a cleaver! They don’t have a mail system. I have a godson there and I can’t send him mail. They don’t really have houses. They have small compounds where each room is its own separate building – grandparents live there and kids stay until they’re married. Family is everything in these countries.
You’re figuring out how to use the shower, the banking system, how to get a train. Even small things: In Brazil, every lunch is rice and beans, so you have to get used to eating the same thing. In Spain, they have a siesta and shut everything down at 2 p.m. and don’t open back up till 5.
As you begin to adjust, things that bothered you typically become the nuances you start to love. You start enjoying local dishes, you pick up bits of the language, and learn the about the best spots to go to (and not-so-great spots). All of a sudden you are living like a local, a huge source of pride and accomplishment.
So you can relate to Saint Rose students from other countries?
The strength these students have to take on something so completely unfamiliar keeps me going. I’m inspired by how much they go through to strive for excellence. They don’t have family here. Their culture is completely different.
I do everything I can to make it as seamless and painless as possible. I pick them up at the airport, bring them to grocery stores, move their things into storage, and manage their visas. I have 35 students who have graduated from Saint Rose. I still manage and monitor their visa status while they work in the U.S. They still come to me for immigration status/visa questions.
What happens next?
So many go on to do incredible things. I have students who work for Deloitte, J.P. Morgan, and big companies in computer science. I have an international student who is a top software engineer at Amazon. Coming here, and getting an education, completely changes their lives. They get amazing jobs and send money home to family so they can afford to live a better life.
How has the pandemic affected their college experience?
They, like other students, became isolated. Unfortunately, a lot have stayed disengaged because they didn’t really get to know the campus to begin with. Our international students and American students are too separate. The international students can be so focused on getting their degrees that a lot of them don’t attend events on campus.
How can that change?
I spend a lot of my time on this. The International Student Club folded during COVID. We’ve revamped and I’m hoping American students join. I’m starting to work on an international buddy system where a U.S.-born student can be their mentor, [inviting] them to game nights on campus or to Thanksgiving.
I’m also working with different departments to create events and partnerships. With the Office of Career Services, we put in a proposal to create campus jobs specifically for international students; they aren’t allowed to do ‘work study’ because it’s federally funded and have limited opportunities to work off campus. My goal is to have them on campus to interact with faculty and staff. So far, I have students working in the dining hall [and] in ITS.
We’re working with the Interfaith Sanctuary to bring back some cultural programs. We held Diwali last fall; it was a mix of international students and Americans.
All overseas travel, of course, paused during COVID. How is Saint Rose restoring opportunities for our students?
We were sending 30 students abroad each semester before [the pandemic]. Now, we’re throwing a lot into ramping it up. This coming semester we have eight going abroad: to England, Australia, Italy, Greece, Scotland, and the semester at sea (which covers 12 countries.)
I’m trying to push South America and Asia. It’s hard to get someone out of their comfort zone who has never attended college when there was study abroad (because of COVID). I do tabling, events, I go to fairs, classroom presentations, webinars.
What about short-term faculty-led study tours?
We just started marketing it again and gathering resources needed to create them. Dr. (Deirdre) Muldoon took her communications sciences and disorders students to a rural town in Belize in mid-August. Other trips are planned and some faculty members are talking about joining together to create trips.
How can the College community help?
The need for help from our community is essential. If we want to grow our international student population and foster understanding and respect among different people and cultures, we need help from everyone.
Internationalizing the campus helps build bridges, not walls, and creates better collaboration, ideas, and enriches our campus climate. If you would like to find out ways your department could help, or how you can personally help, please reach out to me in the Center for International Programs at email@example.com.