Waive the $200 ISS NISO Fee for new international students at OU Fall 2015
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To the Dean of International Studies,
We, as the new international student at OU in Fall 2015 request that you immediately waive the $200 NISO experience fee and issue an apology to all those affected by the inconvenience caused by your office.
As new international students at OU in Fall 2015, we have been charged a NISO experience fee. This fee has not been charged to any other international students in the past and lines up with recent budget cuts and low oil prices in the Oklahoma region. The first we became aware of this charge was when we noticed the bill on our bursar accounts. When several students sent emails to query the charge, we all received the same standardized response:
“Thank you for your question about the NISO fee. The NISO fee covers the Mandatory Internet Orientation, Airport Transport, ISS Arrival Appointment, and Crimson Connection. In order to continue providing a meaningful orientation experience, the fee was initiated this summer to offset the costs incurred by those events. We appreciate your understanding. If you have additional questions or concerns, you can schedule an appointment to meet with me by calling our front office at XXX-XXXX. “
A copy-paste response is extremely offensive and implies that you not only did not read our emails, but that you believe our opinions to be of such low value that you do not see the need to spend time even editing the response. Those who had not asked questions and had simply expressed their concerns were particularly offended with the opening sentence.
I took it upon myself to contact my home university, to see if they had any further information. As it happens, unlike any of my fellow students, they were notified of the charge and what it entails:
“Our New International Student Orientation (NISO) was rebranded and this July we launched the NISO Experience! This dynamic new program began before students left their home countries and lasted throughout last week, culminating in an interactive, in-person orientation session called Crimson Connection. The International Student Services website provides details about the 4 components of The NISO Experience which included a Mandatory Internet Orientation and an Airport Transportation Service (http://www.ou.edu/content/cis/iss/norman-arrival.html). A $200 fee will be charged to each student through their Bursar account to cover these orientation expenses. Your students have been informed of the NISO fee.”
First and foremost, we were never once informed of the NISO fee. In fact, we were told the exact opposite – that all of these services were complimentary. We have several documents that promote the “complimentary” services offered by OU. The OU website currently states that these services are all complimentary and mandatory. This idea of a “free shuttle service” was reiterated many, many times. We were also told that we would receive a “free” arrival pack at the airport.
It is now that I must point out the sub-standard services used to justify the costs. The shuttle service, for starters. We had to wait approximately an hour to even board a shuttle. We loaded our own bags and had to direct the driver, as he did not know where to go. I repeatedly told him the address and to put it into his GPS, but he insisted on using Google Maps on my mobile phone. Not only this, my driver was particularly racist. He presumed that the Taiwanese, Japanese and Korean students accompanying me were all from China. Even after they corrected him, he continued to make comments related to China and even asked the Japanese student in the front to translate directions from a bystander, who was speaking Chinese. Once the student pointed out that he did not speak Chinese, the driver just stared at him blankly. The driver refused to drive us to our accommodation, insisting that we would all need to get off at the same place. With one student in Kraettli, one in Traditions East and two in Traditions West, this was totally unacceptable. If it weren’t for my insistence, he would have simply left us to fend for ourselves , towing our bags in the Oklahoma heat. Further to this, the welcome packs had run out by the time I arrived. I was lucky enough to get a t shirt, but there was no water available. Furthermore, we were required to stay close on standby for the shuttles, so could not go and purchase water for ourselves. Thank goodness we were served plenty of water on our flights.
It is clear that OU has intentionally neglected to inform the students of this fee. Every document that we have received has stated that the services are complimentary and yet, in an email to my university, you advise that we have been informed.
Further to this, the services offered should be a courtesy. It is in OU’s best interest that we understand culture shock, Visa requirements, sexual health and safety, legal issues and the other things noted in the NISO experience. We did not need these things repeated to us in three different forms, through the MIO, online NISO and Crimson Connection. We all sat through the day, twiddling our thumbs as we were under the impression that the university wanted us to know this information.
There has been no break down or justification of the cost. With our International Student fee covering all processing of our visa documents and our Exchange Student Program fee covering the administration of the exchange program (a total of $100 already), we do not see any justification for the exorbitant cost forced upon us without warning. A shuttle costs, at the most, $35 privately. As far as we were aware, the ISS volunteers were not being paid. For those of us on a budget, which is the majority of us (particularly with exchange rates falling against the USD around the world), this is a very significant burden on our studies. While some of us may need to consider taking a loan to pay the amount or asking family members for help, others will need to sacrifice aspects considered crucial to the college experience. Sports, arts and other extra-curricular activities will need to be sacrificed in order to cope with the burden. For those who may not have such a high budget for such activities, the money may need to come from food or rental allowances. For some, there simply is no way to fund the extra cost.
I’m sure you can understand that the key issue is that we were not informed of this cost once. We had both the Exchange Student and International Student fees explained to us in advance, as well as the cost of the Sooner ID card (we were told it would be $15, when it has actually cost $20). Why then, was this charge not communicated earlier? I’m sure that you can understand, many of us made the choice to come to OU as it was seen as a budget friendly option. Had we known about the extra charges we would face, we may have chosen differently.
Previous students have not been charged this fee, despite receiving the same experience and being able to maintain their immigration status. Why then, has the increased cost been forced upon us? It was your budgeting decision to change the program (although we must report no tangible differences), so it should be your cost to absorb. If not, we should have been notified of the cost so that we could make an informed decision.
We demand an apology for the lack of communication regarding these changes to OU’s policies and an immediate waiver of the fee for all those who have been charged. Your staff have mislead students into believing that we would be welcomed here at OU. Instead, we are treated as a burden, with more than our fair share of costs being forced upon us. Furthermore, your office has lied to our home universities. We were never once informed of this charge.
We ask that you show understanding and immediately rectify the situation.
The International Students of OU
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