The International Student Experience

Todd Sasaki2

Wall of MoneyWhen students enter the office of Todd Sasaki, student advisor and director of International Programs at Pitzer, they are often struck by the vast amount of paper money taped to one of his walls. The impressive display of currency was long ago dubbed “The Wall of Money”!


“The Wall of Money is something that started with an international student from Russia,” remembers Sasaki, laughing “When I put the 10 ruble bill he gave me on the wall, people started putting currency from their countries up on the wall. I started asking for contributions, and even more notes came in!”


Sasaki estimates that there are between 35 and 45 different currencies displayed on his wall. Since some of the currency is no longer in circulation or has been de-valued, some of the notes have inadvertently become collector’s items.


“The 5 million Turkish note is no longer 5 million Turkish lira,” says Sasaki, pointing at the wall “I think it’s only worth 5 lira now. But it’s always nice to have a 5 million note on your wall!”


A member of the Pitzer community since 2002, Sasaki provides support for the nearly 100 international students who attend Pitzer each year. Sasaki’s services include academic mentoring, and helping international students obtain visas for studying in the United States. He also maintains a website devoted to immigration information and frequently-asked questions from international students.


“When we say international students in this context, we mean those students who are carrying visas to enter this country,” explains Sasaki “We have between 60-70 matriculated students each year who are working towards earning a Pitzer degree. We also have between 30 and 40 international exchange students who are here either for a semester or a full academic year. All told, there are 90 to 100 international students on campus.”


Pitzer has always welcomed applications from international students, and the Class of 2018 includes students from China, France, Great Britain, Greece, India, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, Nepal, Panama, Rwanda, Thailand and Taiwan.


According to Sasaki, the number of international students on campus has been growing, to the benefit of the entire Pitzer community.


“In 2011, we had eight international students in the freshman class, and that was only four years ago,” remembers Sasaki “This year, we had 25 international students matriculate to Pitzer. There are a larger number of visa-holding students on campus, and we also have more third-culture kids (i.e. students with American citizenship or a green card who grew up abroad). Since there’s a larger international community on campus now, we’re trying to figure out how students can better share their experiences with the rest of the student body.”

Todd Sasaki2

The benefits of studying at Pitzer include pursuing interests that students may not have had the opportunity to engage with before. Students are encouraged to take Pitzer’s Core Values to heart, and explore the connections between the College’s values and their own lives, a process which often leads to discovering their own values.


Pitzer also provides international students with the opportunity to participate in the International Scholars Program, an academic program aimed at helping speakers of other languages develop the level of English needed to succeed in challenging liberal arts courses. The International Scholars curriculum provides ongoing support to students as they move through Pitzer’s increasingly demanding college curriculum.


“Unlike other programs that have conditional admission, International Scholars is integrated into what they’re studying at Pitzer,” explains Sasaki “Students aren’t delayed admission in any way, and they don’t have to take extra courses in order to finish the program or graduate from Pitzer.”


According to Sasaki, the International Scholars Program is beneficial because it targets more than just English language mastery.


“International Scholars is designed to help international students transition to the academic culture of Pitzer,” says Sasaki “They’re learning how to organize longer research papers with correct citations, how to actively participate and lead class discussions, and put together effective presentations. They also work on pulling deeper meaning out of their readings and applying that to their academic work. It’s a content-based program.”


For international students who have not studied in the United States before, the transition to Pitzer can be challenging. According to Todd, Pitzer’s campus life can take some getting used to.


“It’s nice that our students use technology like Skype or Face Time in order to stay in touch with their families, but sometimes that makes it harder to adjust to what’s going on here at Pitzer,” explains Sasaki “It’s great to stay connected to your home country, but we also want you to immerse yourself in our community and take full advantage of the opportunities you have here, because there’s so much to see and do.”


According to Sasaki, Pitzer students have to learn to push beyond their boundaries, to get comfortable with the sometimes uncomfortable academic and social structures of the College.


“You want to go to a college where you feel comfortable and safe, but also a place where you feel confident enough to go out, find your niche and share your experiences,” says Sasaki “We want Pitzer students to communicate their stories and experiences. We’re always trying to find new ways for students to connect.”


A key resource for international students throughout the Claremont University Consortium is International Place, a seven-college facility that provides specific services for international students and helps facilitate the adjustment to the academic and social environment of the Claremont Colleges. International Place hosts an orientation program for international students every fall, and sponsors major events like the International Gala and International Festival. I-Place also organizes alternative Spring Break activities for students who cannot travel home, activities that have included visiting the Grand Canyon or checking out San Francisco.


For Sasaki, the additional support provided by I-Place is a welcome resource. “It’s great for international students to have another avenue of support and more opportunities for programming. When you come to the Claremont University Consortium, you not only have resources at Pitzer, but throughout the Consortium as well.”


Despite the initial college adjustment and culture shock, Sasaki knows that international students continue to thrive on Pitzer’s campus. After 13 years at Pitzer, he’s witnessed first-hand the transformative effects of the Pitzer campus community.


“I do like seeing when our students first arrive, and then seeing them change while they’re here,” says Sasaki “After four years at Pitzer, it’s amazing to see how much they’ve changed, and how they’ve found things that really interest them that they didn’t expect. Seeing that development and earing what they’ve gone on to do is really nice!”


Sasaki says he’s grateful for the experience of working at Pitzer. “I’m fortunate to be in a unique position where I get to interact with students before they arrive at Pitzer, and then work with them while they’re here. Sometimes they find something completely different that they didn’t realize they might be interested in. To see them take on leadership roles within the community is good. I’m learning something new every day, and that keeps my job from being stale or boring!”


So what advice does Sasaki have for international students who are considering attending Pitzer?


“Take advantage of what we have to offer, because there’s something for everyone at Pitzer and the Claremont Colleges,” advises Sasaki “Sometimes all it takes is a willingness to put yourself out there and try new things. Coming to Pitzer is not just about getting good grades and studying all the time. There are so many good connections that you can make, and so many additional things to learn outside of the classroom.”


In Sasaki’s experience, the most successful students are those who persevere through the rough patches and go on to graduate from Pitzer. Some of his fondest memories involve watching his former students walk off the graduation podium, diploma in hand. Graduation is also a time to catch up with parents, many of whom Sasaki has not seen since freshman year.


“I don’t always see much of the parents,” Sasaki reflects “I see them at the beginning when the student arrive, and then usually not again until graduation. They’re all so appreciative of the things we’ve done. They appreciate every bit that was done to help their children earn their degrees.”


By Sasaki’s own admission, he has much for which to be grateful. “I’m thankful that I get to constantly interact with students,” he says “I get a chance to see what they’re doing and figure out different ways to help them better experience Pitzer.”


For more information about Pitzer’s international student programs, check out