When Francisco Javier López shares his story, you can see why he’d be a fit for his new Office of International Affairs director role.
López’s parents emigrated from Spain to pursue their American dream. When López started school, he didn’t speak English like most of the others in his Dearborn elementary. And, as an undergraduate, he gained a greater appreciation and understanding of other cultures through a research grant to study abroad in Istanbul.
You might think López, who began as director on Aug. 27, channeled these personal experiences when choosing his career path. But he didn’t — not at first, anyway.
López said it was academia, and art history in particular, that led him to discover his passion in helping international scholars and students find a sense of home in a new place.
In his first position after earning his M.A. in art history, López worked at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington D.C., an affiliate of Harvard University. Its research library, museum and program in Byzantine studies (a favorite area of López’s for art and culture) attracted him to the institution. However, it was the expert faculty and advanced students from all over the world that became his focus.
In the fellowship program coordinator role, part of his responsibilities included helping international students and scholars from around the world become connected and comfortable. If that meant driving them to look at schools for their children or readying a home down to the toothpaste in the medicine cabinet, he did it.
“I wanted to facilitate their transition and make them feel welcome so they could focus on what they were there to do. In our time together, we would talk about art, of course, but we connected on a more personal level as well. I drew connections between the international experience of these scholars and students and the stories with which I was so familiar from my family,” said López, who served as the international student services director at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies in his most recent position.
“Despite how different we may seem to one another, on a basic, human level we all have so much in common. We want to be happy, to find acceptance, and to be treated with respect.”
That’s the message he’s bringing with him as the new OIA leader. López said it’s well understood on this diverse campus, but it is always a good reminder to think about intercultural understanding, sensitivity and empathy in an active sense.
“Let’s have conversations, inquire and facilitate connections,” he said. “Going beyond the nuts and bolts of support and working together to get international students truly plugged into our community, to ensure that they thrive on our campus, doesn’t just enrich their experiences. It also enriches ours.”