Jyotsna Patel of the International Student Servies: an unlikely journey


Photo Courtesy of Jyotsna Patel

Coordinator of the yearly festival, Jyotsna Patel with Marco at the International Festival at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena.

Residing in a new country with a new baby, Jyotsna Patel applied for a nine-month position at Marshall University with International Student Services. Patel said her husband advised her not to apply for such a temporary position, but she decided to give it a shot. Fifteen years later, she remains at Marshall, now serving as the interim director of study abroad and financial coordinator for International Student Services.

Patel was born in England of Indian heritage and said she never planned to move to the U.S.

“A lot of people said, ‘Oh, you’ll probably end up in America like your sister,’ and I said, ‘No, we’re not moving.’”

Despite her intention of remaining in the U.K., Patel said soon after she got married, her husband received a job offer from the Special Metals Corporation and they decided to travel to West Virginia. Three or four months after she began her position at Marshall, university administration asked her to stay on permanently. 

Her international background allows Patel to bring a unique perspective to the position of interim director of study abroad and the International Student Services office as a whole. Patel said it isn’t easy living in a foreign country, but it does provide the opportunity to learn necessary life skills. She emphasized the global perspective students gain through time abroad, simply by living in a different area of the world.

“Even on TV, on the news in England, they talk about the whole world,” Patel said. “Here, they just talk about American politics all the time. So that’s one thing (students) would definitely learn.”

Patel also said study abroad opportunities allow students to experience a new range of independence by stepping into unknown situations.

“I think it’s important for students to study abroad because it’s a whole different world, you know,” Patel said. “You have to be open-minded, obviously.”

Patel coordinates the International Festival at Marshall and study abroad fairs that take place throughout the year. Although she said juggling many responsibilities can be challenging, Patel said her favorite part of her new position is the opportunity to meet with students. Previously, she worked on the financial aspect of study abroad, which was a “behind the scenes” task, but now she regularly advises and meets directly with driven students.

“Because I think the students that come for study abroad, they’re generally motivated and want to go somewhere,” Patel said. “They’re dedicated to doing the research, on the whole.”

Patel said there are under 100 Marshall students who study abroad each year, with the majority completing their travels during the summer. She said not all students are able to study abroad due to program constraints and typically, political science or other liberal arts majors are the most common candidates for studying abroad. Patel also mentioned finances as a possible restraint for student participation in study abroad programs.

“Not everybody can afford to study abroad,” Patel said. “And also people are afraid to travel in this day and age. They are afraid and they won’t let their kids go.”

When asked about the safety of studying abroad, Patel told one student she couldn’t guarantee absolute safety abroad, but she also couldn’t guarantee safety in certain areas of Huntington. Patel said she understands student and parent hesitation when it comes to studying abroad, so she advises students to be wise and stay on the beaten path when traveling.

Ultimately, Patel said the benefits outweigh the chances students take in living abroad. She said students who don’t study abroad often don’t have the same opportunity to step outside of their comfort zones.

“That’s all they know, right? Around here,” Patel said. “Different cultures. They’re missing different cultures, foods. Unless they’re adventurous – they might go to a big city or whatever. (They miss) meeting different people, for sure, and talking about their cultures.”

Patel said she is amazed by some of the stories students tell when they return from their travels and keeps up with student experiences through their blogs and other means. She said she’s heard many returning from studying abroad speak of new international friends who became family.

Caroline Kimbro can be contacted at [email protected]