February 13, 2018
When Jessica Sandberg was in 11th grade, her family hosted a foreign exchange student from Aalen, Germany, at their home in Hatfield, Pennsylvania.
Later that year, she traveled outside the United States for the first time to visit friends and relatives in Kenya. She credits these experiences with expanding her worldview and encouraging her to travel.
“All the conversations with [our international student] and having her live at our house really piqued my interest in all things international,” Sandberg said.
Sandberg now works as the university’s director of international admissions, overseeing recruitment and admission of international students. In November, The Chronicle of Higher Education named her to its 2017 Influence List for her work with the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign aimed at making college campuses into friendly, safe and diverse spaces for international students.
Sandberg is the first person from Temple to ever be recognized on The Chronicle’s Influence List.
The university will host a #YouAreWelcomeHere Week at the end of March. It will include events like a tea reception for international and domestic students to meet, a networking night with international alumni and a Global Gala.
“I was surprised and confused at first,” Sandberg said. “I didn’t set out for this to be a personal achievement, but sometimes it’s nice to have that recognition.”
The hashtag began in Fall 2016 with a video created by Study Group, a company specializing in international student education. Sandberg then created three YouTube videos endorsing the movement. The first was released near the end of November 2016.
The campaign’s website attributes Sandberg’s videos as the beginning of the social media hashtag’s success.
In the first video, students and faculty members look into the camera and say, “You are welcome here.” The second video uses the same format, but features alumni and elected officials like Gov. Tom Wolf and Mayor Jim Kenney. The final video features students, along with Provost JoAnn Epps and President Richard Englert, sharing how they think international students contribute to the university.
Now, more than 300 institutions across the country have participated in the campaign.
The campaign’s national attention surged, Sandberg said, when President Donald Trump’s executive order banned travel from seven Middle Eastern and African countries in January 2017.
Sandberg said a highlight of her job is interacting with international students and their parents in their native countries, like Vietnam and China. She sometimes travels abroad to hold tea receptions with accepted international students and their families to discuss the ins and outs of life at Temple.
“When we travel to a region a second, third or fourth time, the parents of current students that we’ve recruited in past years will come and talk to families that are thinking about Temple, which is great,” Sandberg said. “I can talk about Temple, but that’s my job, so when the parents do…that really brings it to life.”
She said the visits humanize the admissions process. Incoming students can hear firsthand anecdotes from families of current international students addressing questions about safety, internships and campus life. Sandberg said some parents have even asked her to make sure their child gets enough sleep and proper nutrition while in school.
“Sometimes before a student comes here, parents won’t perceive the [university’s] size,” Sandberg said. “They’ll be like, ‘Can you make sure he gets up on time for class?’ Or when we travel they’ll want us to bring back a suitcase of home-cooked meals, and that will never get through customs. So [I] try to be tactful. … We want to make sure we’re being hospitable hosts.”
This year, the Office of International Affairs will visit at least eight cities outside the U.S. to meet with accepted international students. This will also be the first year it will visit Brazil.
Serena Zhang, a sophomore accounting major from Beijing, said even though she thinks the university community is tolerant of international students, it’s important to have the #YouAreWelcomeHere campaign on campus.
“I think the campaign is very crucial because it shows the diversity of our country,” Zhang said. “[International students] contribute diverse culture to college campuses like food and languages…and we can bring different ideas, whether it’s for a school project or a business.”
Sandberg hopes that, in the future, the campaign will expand to more universities, secondary schools and elementary schools.
“I think it’s really important we show the spirit of welcome is not just a marketing campaign,” Sandberg said. “It’s a reflection of the spirit that’s already here.”