Many international students who arrive for the first time in Washington, DC, to study at American Collegiate will have already made a friend on campus: Tristine Harris. She is the associate student services director at the first-year university program that helps students from abroad discover their passion, adjust to US university life, and then transfer to finish their studies at a world-class institution. Tristine is an expert at helping students turn their interests into careers — and she uses her own experience to help students open up and embrace their dreams.
Additionally, ensuring that students feel genuinely welcomed and heard is important to Tristine. “Our initial conversations are really structured — we want to give each student the same experience — but at the same time, we treat those experiences as an opportunity,” said Tristine. “Part of that is disarming them with our own stories. A lot of our team members have worked in the international student space for a long time, or they have been international students [themselves], so they can relate.”
Tristine is from New Jersey. She is the youngest of seven and the first of her siblings to go to college. She grew up in an environment where she was told she could not go to university, and that studying abroad or finding a career she would love was not a plausible dream. Despite the adversity she faced, Tristine not only flourished in college but completed her master’s coursework in international studies, and she loves her career helping international students succeed both personally and professionally.
“I’m the kind of person, if you tell me ‘no,’ I’ll find a way to make it a ‘yes.’ When I was in college, there was no way I could ever afford to study abroad seven times — my family lived below the poverty line — but I had a dream that wasn’t impossible with my ability to creatively think and innovate and I made it abroad seven times,” said Tristine. “That’s how I approach my role of giving our students opportunities to explore.”
Tristine’s creative and persistent approach to her job has helped many international students find internships, jobs, and destination universities. She has even helped a few change their major, going from what they thought they should do to what they loved to do. Having changed her own college major, she is living proof that, even if students face anxiety with big life decisions, it often will work out.
During COVID-19, Tristine helped many students take a fresh look at their situation and see opportunities, even with in-person restrictions and limited job and internship availability.
“Some of our students were … in very restricted areas. We try to get the students to stop looking at the restrictions and start thinking about what [they] can do,” she said. “Be in the moment, but plan for the future, particularly when it comes to thinking of your next university destination. Explore the universities, look at the events that they’re doing, look at the students, connect on Facebook and Instagram and other various outlets. We also try to make space for the students to consume that information.”
American Collegiate, DC, in Washington, DC, is a world-class first-year program designed for international students. While at American Collegiate, international students can get comfortable living and studying in the United States while also getting a better impression of different four-year universities and courses of study. American Collegiate is hosted by American University, ranked 76th in the country by U.S. News & World Report (2021). Students enrolled at American Collegiate leave with better English skills, transferable credits, a stronger sense of what they want to do, and, as Tristine puts it, who they want to impact.
The advisory team that works with Tristine is there to support international students throughout their entire journey. Tristine meets with students and their parents to discuss pre-departure expectations and needs, advises and teaches during their time in the program, and then stays in touch with them as they move on to different universities and eventually start their careers. As students look for internships or their first roles after graduation, Tristine and her team help connect students to professionals in the same industries so that they can network and find opportunities.
“One of our students from Brazil is now studying in Bloomington, Indiana, and looking for an internship. He studies economics and I had a friend who had a long stint at the International Monetary Fund (IMF),” said Tristine. “She lives in Mexico. He lives in Indiana. But I connected [them] so that he can get an internship at the IMF in Washington, DC. That’s the power of networks.”
Tristine gets weekly check-ins with alumni students on LinkedIn, regularly posts alumni surveys for students who study in the USA, and even reaches out to check in and say hi and talk about sports or music or movies. She wants to see her students succeed and helping them is her passion.
“Reaching out to the students after graduation is actually incredibly important,” says Tristine. It helps both former and current students build their networks. One of Tristine’s goals is to keep communication lines open with former students. “I want them to know it wasn’t a one-time thing. I don’t just care [about] you for that one year,” Tristine said. “I just care.”
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