The International Student Guide: How to enhance your UTEP experience with OIP

The+International+Student+Guide%3A+How+to+enhance+your+UTEP+experience+with+OIP

Hugo Hinojosa, Designer

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series on how to make the most out of the services UTEP has to offer whilst being an international student. 

 

If you are a first-year international student: congratulations, you are officially enrolled under the University of Texas system. You may now pause… inhale… exhale… You made it.  

Now, you may be a well-established junior or senior, aiming for your bachelors with only a 9-to-5 schedule. And if you are like me, you only know about the Office of International Programs because you need the travel signature on your I-20.  

But are signatures all that the OIP has to offer? Are we only destined to become foreign to El Paso’s culture? What does OIP do anyway? How does getting involved help us as international students? 

The Office of International Programs is the first stop for every international student at UTEP. It offers guidance on documentation, while keeping students viable on their F-1 VISA. This is only a fraction of what the office does. 

During spring break, I sat down with Executive Director, Dania Brandford-Calvo, Ph. D., and OIP Assistant, Christian Solis, to discuss the purpose of the office. 

“Is quite impossible to answer that question,” Branford-Calvo said. “Some of the many services we offer are activities, practices, and events to enhance the UTEP experience,” said Executive Director Dania Brandford-Calvo Ph. D.  

Activities in this pool include workshops tailored for success, ranging from learning the tax filing process as an international student, to mastering the top skills for future employees. In addition, the office is actively organizing cookouts and meetings with free food for its students.  

“Our purpose at OIP is to allow you to be a full person,” Branford-Calvo said. “And success comes from being engaged.” 

Certainly, the Office of International Programs features high quality services. But I was surprised to learn that I never actually heard about these events. 

“Why do you think it happens?” Branford-Calvo answered back. 

I believe that the OIP is seen as a consulate. You go in, get your papers, and leave. At least that is what I thought.  

Fortunately, my interview with Dr. Branford-Calvo taught me that the OIP will be there for me if I take responsibility for myself first. Here are some important habits to get into a better international student mindset, according to OIP Assistant Christian Solis. 

Check your email!  

“We know they are long,” Dr. Branford-Calvo confessed.  

And although it is tempting to skip them, do not. You could save a lot of time if you just read these emails first before reaching out. That said, know that the OIP has the obligation to answer any questions you have. Nevertheless, it is important to be mindful. Which brings me to the second tip. 

Do things with time! 

“You have to be aware and look at your documents periodically,” Dr. Branford-Calvo urges. “You can have a 4.0 GPA, but if you are not compliant, you are out of here.” 

Certainly, maintaining a VISA is not an unconscious act, and you can never be too vigilant. For example, border commuters are required to renew their travel signature every 6 months. So, you should request a new signature with days in advance to secure your entrance to the United States. For more information on travel signatures, visit www.utep.edu/student-affairs/oipsa/ 

Enroll with the necessary credits. 

Keep in mind that to maintain your eligibility as an international student, you need to be enrolled with at least 12 credits each semester. One exception to this rule is if you are a senior student undertaking your final semester. However, you still need to request a Reduced Course Load application. To learn more about RCL, visit Sunapsis at https://www.utep.edu/student-affairs/oipsa/office-of-international-programs/student-portal.html or contact the Office of International Programs. 

At the end of the day, we need to realize that we are not aliens in this foreign country. We international students are people with purpose and ambition. Attending UTEP is a milestone by itself; it is evidence of the effort and the willpower we possess for a better future.  

Maintaining an immigration status, then, is an effort that requires planning. So always remember your journey and begin adopting good habits. And remember, the OIP is the perfect teacher.  

Hugo Hinojosa may be reached at [email protected]