Christian Eder, a graduate of the USC Marshall School of Business and the current head of finance at a startup in San Francisco, grew up in Austria before coming to the United States to pursue his education. Eder said that though he had exciting opportunities to study and work here, during the first few months, he faced difficulties adapting to living and studying in the U.S., especially when it came to understanding international work visas.
Eder and a team of international students with professional careers founded Interstride with the purpose of tackling this problem for a new generation of international students. The free service matches students who text “hello” to (415) STRIDE3 with former international students who can then provide help and resources.
Eder explained that though many schools have international student offices, they are often already working on other much-needed services, leaving limited resources to be provided for personal consulting. Even if schools do offer consulting services, students need to take time out of their busy schedules to meet face-to-face. Interstride hopes it can solve this problem by serving as a complimentary service to what international student offices are currently providing.
Eder said that the counselors Interstride provides can easily be reached for guidance on a variety of topics, including culture shock, language barriers, work visas, homesickness, housing issues and problems fitting into the new environment. He explained that since professors and recruiters judge students equally, international students have to work harder to overcome certain obstacles that local students don’t face, such as language barriers and issues getting a work visa.
“Our consultants, who are all volunteers, have real-life experiences on how to effectively resolve all these difficulties and can provide advice and resources [through] the convenience of texting,” Eder said.
Eder said that his team chose texting over phone calls as a means for reaching out to students because of the convenience and accessibility of texting.
“[Our] counselors are busy working professionals who commit a few hours a week, and texting is easier than scheduling a phone call,” Eder said. “There is also plenty of research out there that millennials prefer texting over voice or even face-to-face interactions, so we believe that this channel fits our solution best.”
Anita Dushyanth, an equity research analyst and volunteer consultant at Interstride, said that when she first came to study in the United States, she was overwhelmed by the difficulty of adjusting to American culture and keeping up with the rigorous academic curriculum. She explained that many international students find getting a job after graduation while maintaining a legal immigration status to be challenging.
“It is a tough reality for internationals to navigate the immigration system, which can be downright confusing,” Dushyanth said.
Dushyanth said she hopes that with her expertise in such areas, she can provide support and guidance to the many international students that deal with the problems she also faced.
Interstride is planning on getting the word out to schools where its volunteers are alumni. Eder also said he hopes Interstride will become the first national helpline where former and current international students can connect through texting.
“My family is many time zones away, I still have an accent, and I still do mental math in German,” Eder said. “I feel lucky about my career in the U.S., and I want to give back to the international student community.”