As she roamed around the halls of USC, a young Olivia Loo felt out of place. It was nothing like Panama. She could speak English, but she could not relate to anyone nor to the culture. She was cold, miserable and lonely. Then, she decided that no one should have to go through what she went through.
Director of PCC’s International Student Center (ISC) Olivia Loo works an administrative job that consists of providing documentation, forms and reports to the Dean of Counseling & Student Services, Armando Duran. The numbers from the documents she provides determine the amount of funding that the department receives. She works her best so the department gets enough funding to support international students with counseling services, on-campus events and workshops.
“We’ve changed how things are done in this office in helping international students,” Loo said. “In the past, there’s a lot of things that we would tell international students you can’t do. One of the biggest things was that they could not work on campus until they have finished one semester.”
Now, the ISC allows students to work even if it is their first semester. According to Loo, the rule was not from homeland security, but from the previous ISC staff. “In the past, you had to sit out a whole semester. What if you need the money?”
Loo also acts as a principal designated school official assigned by homeland security to protect all international students, which means she has to read up and understand F1 regulations. She also oversees that her staff are also in compliance with the regulations. Doing so helps the department learn the limitations and benefits of the F1 visa, and in turn, they help students learn about it too.
F1 regulations are rules that include having students maintain the minimum course load for full-time student status. Students can remain in the U.S. for up to 60 days after graduation, unless they have applied and been approved to stay and work for a period of time under the Optional Practical Training Program.
Since starting this job a year and a half ago, Loo had to work on the ISC from the bottom.
“My predecessor was very insular,” said Loo. “[With the amount] of the work that we do, we cannot exist on our own. We need the support of other departments on campus, whether it is funding, programming support or just making.”
Loo has been working on rebranding the ISC and getting it involved with other departments on campus.
“What I think I’ve done differently is to put the International Student Center as ‘International Student Center,’ and not ‘that office that no one wants to talk to,’ or ‘that office that everyone hates coming to.’”
Loo was one of the top students in her school back in Panama, which consisted of 300 students. When she first came to the US, her class was the same size as her former school. People often asked her what Panama was like, if they had access to the internet or if they lived in trees. The culture shock was looming, in addition to the drastic change in her academic setting.
It was almost overwhelming, but it was what made her want to be in the field of working and advocating for international students. Loo encourages international students to not see PCC as just a place for them to go to school. She wants them to feel like they are welcome and they can find a community here.
“I wanted to help international students know that it’s not that bad,” said Loo. “It’s going to be hard in the beginning. You will thrive, you will get better and that’s my passion. Even if you are scared, even if you are afraid, just do it.”
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