Connecting your Student Organization to your Future: VISAS

Career Administrator

Check out this week’s spotlight on Volunteers with International Students, Staff, and Scholars (VISAS), a special status organization, featuring Elma Adusei. Learn how your participation in VISAS can lead to the development of interpersonal and leadership skills and prepare you for your future career. Elma is a third-year undergraduate double majoring in Global Studies with a concentration in Global Public Health and Foreign Affairs while minoring in African-American and African Affairs. Read on to learn Elma’s journey with VISAS.


What is VISAS?

VISAS stands for Volunteers with International Students, Staff, and Scholars. It is a program that seeks to bridge the American UVA community with the International UVA community by helping prospective international TAs, workers with a refugee background, and international graduate students to improve their English language, intercultural communication, and teaching skills. VISAS is also a great way for American students seeking opportunities to travel abroad to get to know about another culture right on Grounds! VISAS is a special status organization that offers internship positions and is part of the UVA Teaching Resource Center and the UVA Center for American English Language and Culture.

What is the benefit of joining VISAS?

VISAS offers different programs that student volunteers, who are fluent in English, can partake in. The program positions are: Language Consultants, Classroom Consultants, Teaching Consultants, ESL Assistants, and Workplace ESL Assistants. Students are also welcome to attend the VISAS Café sessions to get to interact with more international individuals while discussing a topic and enjoying food from different regions of the world. Therefore, students have the wonderful opportunity to connect with international individuals and in exchange are likely to gain cultural competency about their partner's culture. Students also gain interpersonal intelligence as they learn to communicate and interact with individuals that have international or refugee backgrounds. Most students are surprised to realize that by the end of the program not only have their partners learned from them but that they have learned something from their partners as well in terms of learning a bit of their partner's native language and gaining a new perspective about a different culture. VISAS student volunteers also build relationships with their partners that is effective in integrating both the domestic and international spheres at UVA. 

What is your current role and overall experience of being involved in VISAS? How have you achieved, or hope to attain personal development?

My current role in VISAS is having the awesome opportunity to be an O'Hill Workplace ESL Assistant, along with another partner. As an O'Hill Workplace Assistant, I help align O'Hill staff workers that have a refugee/immigrant background with student volunteers in terms of what foreign language(s) and other culture(s) the volunteer is familiar with. I also create lesson plans that are specifically tailored to each O'Hill worker's level of English skills. Therefore, I train and supervise student volunteers who meet weekly with their O'Hill staff partner in a large group workshop setting.

What are some transferrable skills gained from being a member of VISAS that can be mentioned in a resume or interview?

Some transferrable skills gained from being a part of VISAS that can be mentioned in a resume or interview are: interpersonal skills, aiding ESL individuals to practice their English skills, volunteering in an educational setting, interpersonal intelligence, and cultural competency about a particular culture.

How does VISAS help undergraduate students explore their options, in terms of career track, or explore something about themselves (i.e. strengths, weaknesses, limitations)?

VISAS allows volunteers to try and determine where careers such as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and Teach for America are careers that fit with their personality. Therefore, volunteers gain a better sense of their self-awareness. This means that through and at the end of the process, volunteers can clearly see their strengths and weaknesses in terms of how they are able to interact with people from a different culture and international background. They will be able to tell whether they have the patience, compassion, and improvisational ability to teach and encourage their partners to get better at speaking, reading, and writing English.

What advice/information would you give to UVA students interested in exploring VISAS? What is the time commitment?

My advice to interested students is to come willing to engage international TAs, staff, and graduate students with patience, empathy, and encouragement and keep in mind that learning a new language can be daunting and difficult to grasp, especially past a young age. There are different positions to volunteer for that are flexible for their academic schedule and that align with different interests. For example, if you're interested in giving constructive feedback to international TAs, you should consider applying for the Classroom Consultant position. Or if you're looking to have a casual conversation in English with an international graduate student or TA, then you should apply for the Language Consultant position. The average time commitment is at least one hour once a week. They should realize that as much as their international partner is going to learn from them, they will also learn things from their partner in exchange. This could mean learning some cool words in a different language and more about a particular culture/society. Lastly, students should come to these volunteer sessions with their ego at the door and be respectful in their interactions with their partners. 

To learn more info about the VISAS program, please visit the VISAS Wordpress page at: https://visasatuva.wordpress.com/

What general advice do you have for students who are uncertain in what they want to get involved in? How can they start exploring?

My advice is for these students to ask their friends about the organizations that they are involved in as a start and pay attention to the flyers and chalk writings around grounds that publicize student organizations that hold or sponsor events for the UVA community. If they want to attend an event, then there's a good chance that the student organization aligns with their interests and/or career goals. Also, they should visit the UVA student organization reference database at: https://atuva.student.virginia.edu/ .


Want to explore and get involved in VISAS? Email Elma Adusei (ea3qx@virginia.edu) with any questions to learn more about VISAS.