International Office Offers Guidance to Scholars, PIs
By Mika Ono
When Aravind Somanchi, research associate at The Scripps
Research Institute (TSRI), went to the East Coast for a conference,
he thought it would be a perfect opportunity to see a famous
North American landmark, Niagra Falls. He arrived at the falls
early in the morning. Wanting to get a good view, he traversed
a small bridge, barely noticing that he crossed a slim line
flanked by two unobtrusive flags, one U.S. and one Canadian,
on the way.
It was only later, when Somanchi tried to return to his
car, that he realized that he had inadvertently left the country.
The only way back was through a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization
Service (INS) office. A citizen of India, Somanchi was carrying
no passport, no visa, and no immigration documentation.
Somanchi left an urgent message with TSRIs International
The INS officer said the only way I could cross back
into the United States would be to have my workplace produce
papers to show my status, says Somanchi. "Within half
an hour of opening, the International Office had faxed over
not only employers papers, but also copies of my passport
and immigration documentation!"
Somanchi was free to re-enter the United States and to return
to his postdoctoral position in TSRIs Department of
The International Office offers guidance to the 800 to 1,000
international scholars that TSRI hosts each year and the prinicipal
investigators they work with. The office helps select a visa
category appropriate for each international scholars
type of appointment, family situation, immigration history,
and plans for the future. The office also double-checks documentation
upon the scholars arrival, notifies scholars of upcoming
visa deadlines, and routinely helps with emergencies such
as Somanchis Niagra Falls crossing.
"We keep in mind that people come to us with issues that
impact their lives," says Lina Quinsaat, director of the International
Office, whose staff includes Administrative Specialist Lisa
Rohr, Administrative Assistant Nancy Dorman, and Administrative
Assistant Pamela Nitzling.
When a scholar first arrives on campus, Quinsaat sets up
a one-on-one meeting to review documents and discuss the legal
requirements of the stay. "A group orientation just isnt
effective enough," she says. "There is a lot of diversity
among TSRI international scholarsin languages, nationalities,
and visa types (which are each regulated by a different set
of laws). When I meet with someone individually, I get a much
better sense of whether he or she really understands the confusing
but extremely important information I am presenting."
In addition to attending to legal requirements, the International
Office offers international scholars help adjusting to life
and work here. The office sends an orientation packet to scholars
before they leave for the United States. Once scholars arrive
on campus, further guidance is provided on such issues as
finding a place to live, applying for social security, obtaining
a drivers license, buying insurance, arranging for a
spouse to work, or helping to select or change a childs
The office also offers organized programs, including:
- An annual tax workshop where speakers from the U.S. Internal
Revenue Service and the Franchise Tax Board give relevant
information on filing tax returns;
- English-as-a-second-language classes;
- A support group called the Society of International Spouses,
which offers the spouses of international scholars a chance
to make friends, go on outings, hear speakers, and attend
Quinsaat, who has been with TSRI since 1978 when she worked
as an assistant to TSRIs founder and then-director Frank
Dixon, understands from her own experience what some of the
scholars and their spouses are going through. "I immigrated
to the United States from the Philippines when I was seven,"
she says. "I remember what it was like." From that experience
stemmed a childhood ambition to join the Foreign Service,
a goal which Quinsaat feels she has met on her own terms through
her work in TSRIs International Office.
Many scholars are grateful for the International Offices
help years after they leave TSRI. Cornell University Assistant
Professor Brian Crane, a Canadian alumnus of TSRI, notes.
"Between my wife (who is French) and I, weve now had
experience with the international offices of four different
academic institutions. TSRIs was the only one to remind
us about visa deadlines and lay out potential immigration
problems so we could prepare for different contingencies.
I still rely on Linas sound advice."
Some principal investigators also see the International
Offices impact as long-term. "Lina and her staff are
terrific," comments Molecular and Experimental Medicine Professor
Francis Chisari. "They enable me to tap a reservoir of talent
in Asia, Europe, South America, and Australia, despite the
complicated requirements of the INS. They have also successfully
resolved immigration issues so that some scientists who came
to TSRI as postdocs could remain here as faculty members.
The International Office helps the institute fulfill its missionexcellence
in basic research."
The staff of the International Office(from
left to right) Lisa Rohr, Lina Quinsaat, Nancy Dorman, and
Pamela Nitzlingprovide practical advice to TSRIs
international scholars and their prinicipal investigators.
"The International Office helps
the institute fulfill its missionexcellence in basic