Moving abroad to study in a foreign country can be exciting, enriching, and a little scary, too. Sharmeen Ahsan-Bracciale, the managing director (MD) for American University’s International Accelerator (IAP) and American Collegiate programs, is no stranger to these emotions. As a lifelong international student, Sharmeen has essentially prepared for her role as manager her entire life and is uniquely able to understand international students’ needs.
We recently interviewed Sharmeen about her experiences as an international student, and why she believes American University’s IAP programs are one of a kind.
Q. Can you describe your experience as an international student and global citizen?
Sharmeen: As the daughter of a former diplomat, I have had the privilege of many incredible experiences at a very early age. I have traveled extensively and met people from all over the world, which gave me an appreciation for different cultures from an early age.
A fun fact: I was an international student from the time I was in preschool until I entered college. Throughout my upbringing, I lived in Bangladesh (where I’m from), Pakistan, Italy, Nepal, New York, England, and Poland, and went to school in five different countries, so I am very familiar with what it is like to start school in a new country and in a new culture. I have also had to adjust to both the American and British school systems, which are very different in culture and educational expectations—almost opposites in fact.
I have had a twenty-plus-year career in higher education and I have always wanted to work with international students. Between my previous role at the American University School of Communication and as MD of IAP, I have been at American for about twelve years now!
Q. What are your main objectives as MD as they relate to the students you work with?
Sharmeen: As MD at the International Accelerator Program at American University, my goals are to support our outstanding student services, including a smooth transition to campus and Washington, DC, to ensure student success. By success, of course, I mean academic success, but also success in [helping our students adjust to] the culture of US higher education and ensuring students are familiar with the many resources available to them at American University. By the end of the program, our international students should be well equipped with all the tools they need for success at AU.
Q. What makes the International Accelerator programs at American University different from other international education resources and programs?
Sharmeen: Based on my own experience, nothing like this has existed before. The program does an outstanding job of addressing the needs of international students, even before they arrive on campus. Through a dedicated program like IAP, international students and their families get a “soft landing” as they not only transition into an institute of higher education, but one in a foreign country.
We are very different from other international education resources and programs in that our approach is very proactive. We are constantly evolving and growing along with our students and are very agile in terms of reacting to our students’ changing needs.
Q. Why do think it is important to offer these kinds of programs for international students?
Sharmeen: I think higher education is going through a lot of changes at this time. New models are being explored every day and student services has really come to the forefront of the student experience. Universities are much more intentional about ensuring that they not only provide outstanding academics, but also a rich overall experience. This is especially true for international students, as there is often a baseline assumption of international students [being familiar] with the US higher educational system, classroom expectations, etc. It is wonderful to see program like ours, which truly caters to the needs of this specific population.
Q. What do you love most about working in this industry and serving in this role?
Sharmeen: It is very fulfilling to see international students, who may not otherwise get the chance to study at an outstanding educational institution like American, have this opportunity. I also love seeing that students are set up for success through the work that my team and I do. I enjoy meeting students from all walks of life, all with the shared goal of enriching their lives and making a difference in the world.
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