Dean of International Students Announces Retirement

Photo by Michelle S. Lee '16 | Hrayr Tamzarian, Smith College Dean of International Students, announced that he will retire on January 9, 2014.

Olivia Goodman ‘14 News Editor

Dean of International Students, Hrayr Tamzarian, has announced that he will retire on January 9, 2014 after 32 years at Smith.  Born in Aleppo, Syria, Tamzarian grew up in Beirut, Lebanon and later lived in Kuwait before immigrating to the U.S. with his family, where he finished high school in Massachusetts and completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Dean Tamzarian’s interest in international affairs began when he was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War due to his language abilities, where he was assigned to NATO/SHAPE in Belgium in the Office of Protocol.  “It was there that I discovered my passion for and natural skills in working within a diverse multinational organization and I did very well organizing programs for high-ranking international visitors and dignitaries.  After, I decided to pursue a career in international affairs and started to explore the field of intercultural communication and cross-cultural theories.

“As an Armenian and a Christian minority in the Middle East, my family had wandered from place to place trying to find a safe home and eventually immigrated to the US.  When I was a student in the early 70s there was little support for international students in our high schools or our universities and I often struggled with English while overcoming complex issues of race, ethnicity and identity.  I was working at UMass in 1981 when I saw a job opening at Smith for a part-time adviser to international students.  I took the position at Smith while continuing to work at UMass setting up language corridors in the dormitories.”

Over the span of Tamzarian’s career at Smith, the international student population has grown significantly.  When I started at Smith, we had around 50 international students. My office was in College Hall and we had a small room in the basement of Lilly Hall where we met regularly. I knew everyone by name and even something about their family and hometown. Today with 364 international students representing 73 countries that has become much more challenging. Although I do get to know individual students during their four years at Smith, there are those with whom I do not interact frequently enough to get to know well.”

Tamzarian spoke of the myriad challenges facing international students at Smith, both in and out of the classroom.  “Our international first years must cope not only with a new language of instruction but have to adjust to a new educational system that requires a different kind of learning. They are used to lectures followed by end of the year examinations, which they do very well.  What they have to learn at Smith is how to actively participate in class, how to critically think and study the material presented by their professors. Outside the classroom, they learn to integrate within our culture yet they must retain a strong sense of identity towards their own cultural values. They must navigate their houses, learn to interpret social signals they find confusing and they must find food that they like.  American students also face similar issues, but they are much more familiar with the system and adapt more quickly. They also have the support of their families nearby.”

Tamzarian spoke to how the substantial growth in Smith’s international student body and global presence has benefited all students.  Students today are much more exposed to the world at large, studying abroad and traveling to do internships in foreign countries.  International students are positioned strategically to play an important role in the development of global education. Our curriculum is more internationalized and offers global perspectives in every academic field.”

In addition to steady growth in the international student body, the creation of the Lewis Global Studies Center, Tamzarian says, is an example of Smith’s recognition of the importance of global education.  “The GSC, where my office is located, has been the crossroad for American students where they can interact with our international community of students and scholars who play an important role in bringing the world to Smith.”

On the topic of US involvement in all areas of globalization, “We no longer have a choice,” said Tamzarian.  “The United States must continue to be competitive in the global economy and global markets and must continue to provide leadership in foreign policy. Our education system is one of our most precious ‘exports’ in which the U.S. is still a leader.  Smith is poised enviably to contribute to our critical need for global citizens and our international students and scholars are rich resources for us.”

Recent alumnae Iju Shakya ’13, who was the international student worker in the Office for International Students and Scholars, commented on Dean Tamzarian’s impact on her while at Smith.  “I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to know and to work with Dean T,” said Shakya.  “While at Smith, I was inspired by his passion and dedication towards his job, always encouraged by his advice and guidance, comforted by his care and concern and thoroughly entertained by his stories. I hope to grow up to be like him one day!”

After overseeing significant change and growth in the international student population in his 32 years at the helm of the Office for International Students, Dean Tamzarian spoke of what he will miss most as he moves on from Smith.  “I will miss being part of these exciting times,” said Tamzarian.  “I will miss meeting our entering students every year in September and introducing Smith and the U.S. to them. I will miss Commencement and watching our students graduate surrounded by their friends and families. I will definitely miss our students calling me ‘Dean T’ affectionately as they soon learn from our upper class international students, and I will miss Smith, because it has been home to me for the greater part of my life in these last three decades.”