DrLuciaAnnMcSpadden Welcome to Pacific School of Religion! Our international students make up almost one-fifth of PSR’s dynamic student body. On campus and in the San Francisco Bay Area, you’ll have the chance to meet people from all over the world.

We know that coming to study in a new cultural and social context, often in a second language, requires courage. PSR is committed to providing academic and personal support to aid you in this effort. For example, a weeklong orientation session is designed specifically for international students, and weekly academic support and workshops are offered throughout the year. A PALS program matches entering international students with a U.S. student for conversation. The International Student Support Task Group — composed of PSR administration, faculty, staff, and students — provides ongoing planning and oversight of PSR’s programs for international students.

The Coordinator of International Student Support and the Office of Community Life have an awareness of what it is like to live and work internationally. Whenever you need help with academic work, some insight on the confusion of U.S. culture, assistance in dealing with classroom expectations, time to talk about your future plans or life in the U.S., please come by. We are here to support you.


Dr. Lucia “Shan” Ann McSpadden
Coordinator of International Student Support
510/849-8250 / lmcspadden@psr.edu

Rev. Ann Jefferson
Director of Community Life and Spiritual Care
510/849-8257 / ajefferson@psr.edu

PSR provides assistance in writing academic papers. We do this in two ways:

  1. Appointments with the Coordinator of International Student Support [Holbrook 219A].

2. Appointments with writing coaches. Their office is the CAPSR office on the first floor of the Holbrook building next to the elevator. Their individual schedules will be posted there as well as outside Holbrook 219A.

  • Note: Writing coaches provide an academic service. They will work with you to improve your papers by focusing upon 1) technical issues such as grammar, style, syntax especially guiding you to deal with consistent grammatical errors; 2) organization of your paper; 3) expression of your ideas.
  • Your writing is your own. The coaches and Coordinator will not write your paper. They will not change your ideas.
  • The coaches and Coordinator will ask you to clarify your ideas, to explain your reasoning so that you will be better able to present your thinking clearly and logically.
  • Get a good dictionary and a thesaurus. Electronic dictionaries are not adequate for academic work.
  • You may select any of the coaches or the Coordinator and change from one to another at any time.


  • Appointments are strongly recommended.
  • The writing coaches keep specific office hours. You can make an appointment with them by email.
  • The Coordinator of International Student Support is available by appointment throughout the week. Either sign up on her office door or send an email.
  • “Drop Ins” can be handled only if time allows and there are no other appointments.
  • Appointments are a maximum of one hour. If you need more time, make another appointment.
  • Bring a copy of the syllabus of the course to give to the Coordinator or the coach
  • Make appointments as early as possible. It may not be possible for the Coordinator or the coaches to work on your paper at the last minute.
  • Sending your paper electronically before your appointment will allow the writing coach and you to work together more efficiently.
  • Ideally, work with the coaches or the Coordinator early in your writing process and then make a follow-up appointment when you are ready to do the final editing
  • If you have serious questions about your assignment, contact your professor.

PSR policy regarding students for whom English is a 2nd language (PSR faculty minutes December 2008)

  • Upon request by the ESL student to the PSR faculty, the faculty member will extend the deadline for papers one week to allow time for editing.
  • Upon request by the ESL student, PSR faculty will allow twice as much time for ESL students to complete in-class written exams. Note: This is not automatic. You, as the student, must contact the professor and get permission. Also, this is a PSR policy; other GTU schools do not have this policy.

As you will surely experience, PSR is a very diverse community. The community of Pacific School of Religion is shaped by people of different racial, cultural, and faith traditions. Our community includes persons from many regions of the United States as well as the world. Persons with different sexual orientations enrich our theological and social insights. Such social complexity can be both stimulating and challenging to all of us, and surely to international students. The diverse experiences and viewpoints are gifts which PSR provides as you engage in your theological journey. Discussions here open the door to further exploration and discernment.

Every culture and religious tradition has its own attitudes and beliefs about sexual orientation, sexual intimacy and gender identity and expression. There are various views and opinions on these issues in the United States and various degrees of comfort in discussing them. Religious and political (or civic) concerns around these topics often overlap and intersect in American culture.

The following are commonly asked questions by international students regarding these issues and topics. The answers are not shared by everyone at PSR or the GTU, but they are frequently discussed, both inside and outside the classroom. As a matter of institutional policy, PSR welcomes students, staff and faculty of many different sexual orientations and gender identities. PSR also includes a Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS), which offers programs and educational resources both here on campus and around the country. A good place for further information on these issues is the Center’s website (www.clgs.org).

What does “gay” mean?

A gay man has significant sexual and/or romantic attractions to other men, or identifies as a member of the gay community. At times “gay” is used to refer to all people, regardless of sex, who have their primary sexual and or romantic attractions to people of the same sex.

What does “lesbian” mean?

A lesbian is a woman who has significant sexual and/or romantic attractions to other women, or who identifies as a member of the lesbian community.

What does “heterosexual” mean?

A person (male or female) who has significant sexual and/or romantic attractions primarily to members of the other sex is heterosexual.

What does “bisexual” mean?

A bisexual person (male or female) is someone who has significant sexual and/or romantic attractions to both males and females or is someone who identifies as a member of the bisexual community. Bisexuality does not imply having multiple sex partners or relationships.

What does “transgender” mean?

There are several meanings for this term and not everyone agrees about how to define it. Generally speaking, most cultures live with social expectations concerning gender (men looking and behaving differently than women). Those who identify as “transgender” do not generally match or fit those expectations or choose not to. For some time now in American culture the meaning of gender and its expression has been debated in both civic and religious contexts. Transgender people offer new insights and pose fresh questions about the assumptions most of us have about gender.

Can you determine someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity from his or her appearance?

It is impossible to tell someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity by their appearance. Cultural stereotypes can be misleading and it’s best not to make any assumptions about another person’s identity.

How many lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) people are there in the United States?

No one knows for sure, although it is estimated that from 2% to 10% of the U.S. population is LGBT.

Why do people have different sexual orientations or gender identities?

Different cultures have different theories and beliefs about this question. In the U.S., there is no agreement on the answer. Some people believe that sexual orientation and gender identity are influenced by biology, while others believe these are shaped by the environment and still others believe it may be a combination of the two. Although there have been studies and research in this area, there is no conclusive answer.

Is being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender normal?

The question of what is “normal” can vary widely depending on one’s own background and religious tradition. It is important to realize, however, that various sexual orientations and gender identities have existed throughout history in many different cultures. People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender belong to every age group, race, religion, education level, and socioeconomic class. At PSR, generally speaking, an LGBT orientation is considered just as “normal” as any other and is not considered “sinful” or in any way contrary to God’s will for human life.

Are there health concerns associated with being LGBT?

There is nothing inherently unhealthy about any given gender identity or sexual orientation. All people who are sexually active risk being exposed to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV and AIDS, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The American Psychological Association (APA) does not consider a lesbian, gay or bisexual orientation to be a mental illness. This was a significant change in American culture when the APA made this decision in the early 1970s.

Are LGBT people discriminated against?

In the U.S., some organizations and individuals discriminate against LGBT people. For example, in some parts of the country school teachers can lose their jobs if someone thinks they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. LGBT people can be refused housing or be evicted from their homes. In addition, they are sometimes harassed or physically attacked. In addition to these civil rights concerns, religious attitudes toward sexual orientation and gender identity vary, and sometimes widely, depending on the tradition or denomination. While some Christian churches will accept and ordain openly gay or lesbian people, for example, others will not.

What does it mean to be “in the closet”?

When someone is LGBT but has not personally come to terms with his/her identity and has not shared his/her gender identity or sexual orientation with others, this person is said to be “in the closet.” It is difficult for many people to come “out of the closet” and reveal their true identity because of the problems and possible discrimination that can sometimes come with being LGBT. Always remember that it’s up to LGBT people to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity to others.

What is “homophobia”?

Homophobia is a term used to describe the fear and/or hatred of or the discomfort with people who love and sexually desire members of the same sex. Homophobic reactions often lead to intolerance, bigotry, and violence against anyone not acting within culturally determined heterosexual norms. People who are homophobic are often afraid to get to know LGBT people. They are sometimes afraid that other people will think they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Or, they worry that an LGBT person may be attracted to them.

What is “heterosexism”?

Heterosexism refers to the attitudes, policies and social systems that result from the assumption that all people are heterosexual or that heterosexuality is inherently normal and superior to all other forms of sexual orientation. This is similar to the social system of sexism that results from the belief that men are superior to women.

Why are gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people so public about their sexuality? Isn’t this a private matter?

Some people in the U.S. think that LGBT people talk too much about their lives. In the U.S., however, heterosexual couples often hold hands and even kiss in public. They commonly talk about boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, and wives. LGBT people on the other hand cannot talk about their social lives without revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity and thereby risk discrimination. LGBT people seek the same freedom of expression that heterosexuals already enjoy.

Why do LGBT issues get so much attention in the U.S.?

Historically, there have been many social movements for equal rights in the U.S., such as the movements to gain civil rights for women, African-Americans, and people of different religions. The LGBT rights movement is another example of people in the U.S. working together for civil rights. LGBT rights laws would help protect LGBT people from oppression. Similar movements have been underway for some time in many churches and faith communities to include and welcome openly LGBT people. LGBT civil rights and religious inclusion are still highly controversial in many places in the U.S., which is why these issues can so often receive attention in the news media or other public venues.

How do issues of LGBT rights and discrimination affect me if I’m heterosexual?

As a PSR/GTU student, you will meet lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people, perhaps without ever knowing about their sexual orientation or gender identity. They may be your classmates, your instructors, and your friends. You will often read or hear about the issues of LGBT rights and discrimination against LGBT people. If you know about these issues, you will better able to understand the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people you meet. It is likely that you already know LGBT people from home, through they might not represent themselves to you in this manner. LGBT rights are important to heterosexuals as part of the broader civil rights individuals want and expect in this country. LGBT issues have also been discussed and debated in American churches and faith communities for several decades now and these issues will often appear in PSR course work as well as in the chapel and other on-campus programs.

What if I think I am lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender?

It is not unusual to wonder about one’s own sexual orientation or gender identity, especially on a seminary campus like PSR where these issues are discussed openly. You are welcome to talk to someone about this in a confidential manner. An appointment can be made with your faculty advisor or with a staff member from CLGS.

Will I have immigration problems because I am a gay or lesbian foreign student?

Sexual orientation is not a reason to be denied a visa or any of the benefits of F-1 or J-1 student status. One problem that lesbian or gay foreign students sometimes do face, however, is that there is no simple way to have a same-gender partner accompany you to the United States. The classification for dependents of students is only for a legally recognized spouse or children.

What if I find out I am gay or lesbian while in the United States, but don’t know how to tell my family at home?

Deciding whether, when, and how to talk to your family and friends about your sexual orientation or gender identity is a complex issue that all LBGT people face, regardless of their citizenship or religious tradition. However, it can be a special challenge for students from countries that are less open than the U.S. A good starting place would be your faculty advisor or a member of the staff at CLGS.

Can I get political asylum in the United States because I am gay or lesbian?

This has happened before, although obtaining political asylum is a long and complex process. It would depend in part on what country you are from and what type of persecution you have faced in your home country.

A Safe and Welcoming Place

These questions and answers provide only a brief introduction to the issues around sexual orientation, sexual intimacy, and gender identity and expression, especially for faith communities. These issues are often complex and many people find them difficult to discuss. PSR is committed to providing a safe and welcoming place for people who identify as LGBT; this community is also committed to genuine conversation and theological education about these topics. PSR invites your questions and concerns about LGBT people while keeping in mind the dignity and respect each of us deserves as God’s people. If you are concerned about how best to pose your questions, a good place to begin is to share these concerns with your faculty advisor.

The PSR community is greatly enriched by the cultural diversity that international students offer to the school. We are also enriched by the diversity contributed by our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members. This kind of diversity presents a remarkable opportunity for theological education and spiritual insight even when — or perhaps especially when — the diversity presents a challenge to one’s own assumptions and beliefs. That challenge makes PSR a truly stimulating place to learn and grow.

Why do I need health insurance while I am here and what are the consequences of having inadequate or no health insurance?

There is very restricted government-funded health care in the United States. Costs for health care in the United States are managed through private companies, many that are national and sometimes even international, but not government-based. The cost for health care is high and increases annually.

Usually an individual does not have the financial ability to pay for these costs, especially diagnostic tests and hospitalization. For example, surgical procedures can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, uninsured hospitalization for just one day can cost several thousand dollars; an ambulance or a CT scan can cost around $2000-$3000; just one i.v. injection can cost around $200.

Sometimes doctors charge several times (about 7 times) as much to an uninsured patient as they do for the insured because health insurance companies are able to negotiate such drastic discounts for their patients. These are all out of pocket costs for the uninsured. Health insurance companies pay the majority or sometimes all of the costs, thereby drastically reducing the cost to the individual, even after paying $200-$300 per month in premiums.

A few years ago, an international student at PSR had a health insurance policy from her home country in Asia. However, her policy did not include all hospital expenses. The student became ill enough that she needed to be in the hospital. The cost to her was $40,000! This is one reason that PSR and the GTU require students to have not just any health insurance, but sufficient health insurance. We do not want any student to face such a situation. Therefore, health insurance is essential.

What kinds of services do qualified comprehensive health plans cover and what kind of fees should I pay attention to?

Comprehensive health plans generally cover all things health related: doctor’s visits for flu, infections and other illnesses; prescribed medicine; urgent care for when you have health emergencies, vaccinations such as for influenza, polio, hepatitis, TB; diagnostic tests such as X-rays, MRI, CAT scan, and preventative health care. Please refer to the Summary of Coverage and Benefits sheet for GTU HIPS to see what the GTU HIPS covers. While GTU HIPS covers many of the above named services, it does not cover dental or vision materials such as glasses and contacts, even though it covers eye exams. Additionally, life insurance plans are not a substitute for health insurance and vice versa.

Being insured usually requires that someone (you, your employer, your spouse) pay a monthly premium. These premiums can range from $30/month to $1000/month depending on many factors, such as who the company is, how extensive your coverage is, how many people are covered.

Many health insurance policies including GTU HIPS include requirements for the individual to pay some minor costs each time they use health services. One may have to pay a co-payment or a small additional fee paid upfront each time they visit a doctor or when they pick up their prescription medication. In addition, there might deductibles, for example, an individual might be required to pay the first $500 of a charge that is really $2000 for staying overnight at the hospital, but the insurance company will pay for the remaining $1500. For more information on the co-pays and deductibles of the school’s plan GTU HIPS, please refer to the Summary of Coverage and Benefits sheet for GTU HIPS. Health insurance policies vary and you should carefully analyze any health insurance plan you are comparing to the GTU health insurance program (GTU HIPS) for students by a variety of factors that can include the type of services and care you’ll need the most and is covered by your plan, the co-payment and deductible amounts, the monthly premiums, how accessible will the facilities and doctors be to you during your time here, and whether or not you already have a regular doctor or specialists you want to continue to use.

I have an international health insurance policy from my country. Why can’t I just use that? It is much cheaper than the PSR/GTU policy.

As you can see from the above example, often an international health insurance policy issued outside of the United States does not adequately cover the costs of getting the same services you would use in your own country. In many cases, the same services you would receive and would be fully covered in your country could cost you far more than your plan could cover.

Also, one of the conditions under which Kaiser has agreed to offer a school-wide plan is to ensure that all full-time students not on Kaiser have comparable plans that fulfill standards negotiated between Kaiser and our health insurance consultants. These standards are described on the GTU HIPS waiver form (PDF). If students did not fulfill this part of the bargain, PSR would lose its eligibility to offer this health insurance membership to our students.

In general International Travel insurance which usually has a relatively higher amount of coverage in the case of catastrophic accident, death or sickness does not qualify. The following are examples of health plans from AIG, a popular choice for international students. The first three plans do not satisfy the terms of the GTU HIPS waiver. The last one does. These first three plans DO NOT fulfill the terms of the waiver because the first three categories Accident Death & Disability, Accident Medical Expenses, and Sickness Medical Expenses total to less than $250,000:

This AIG is an example of a policy that DOES fulfill the waiver requirements because the first three categories add up to at least $250,000.

If you feel that your policy is adequate, fill in the waiver application and submit it to the Registrar who will evaluate the request and inform you whether or not your policy qualifies. If there are still questions as to the eligibility of your plan, it may be evaluated by the Chief Financial Officer. Once a decision has been made, you will be informed about your choices and deadlines – usually enrolling in the GTU HIPS plan.

When do I need to turn in my waiver form or Kaiser application?

By the last day of General Registration.

For more frequently asked questions about student health insurance go here.

International students are designated by the U.S. government as being in F-1 status. As long as the student is a full-time student, he/she is here “legally.” The student must be registered as a full-time student!

Full-time is decided by the school – by PSR and/or the GTU. It is not decided by the U.S. government. For MDiv students full-time is 9 credit hours. For MA students full-time is 12 credit hours. For DMin students full-time is typically 9 credit hours. When a MA student or a DMin student is writing a thesis at the end of the academic program, the number of credit hours considered full-time may vary.

For any F-1 student in the last semester of the academic program, there is no minimum number of credit hours. The student may take the number of credit hours needed to complete his/her program and still be considered full-time. An F-1 student does not need to take courses during regular school breaks such as summer.

It is important to understand the difference between a F-1 student’s status as an international student and the student’s visa. A visa is permission to enter the United States. A visa is issued because the U.S. government has accepted the person as an F-1, international student. Once the student is inside the U.S. attending school, the date on the visa or in the student’s passport is not important. However, if a F-1 student wishes to travel outside of the U.S. during his/her time as a student, the student’s visa must be current and the passport must be current, that is, the passport must not be expired. If that is not the case, that student must get a new passport and/or apply for a new visa to re-enter the U.S. Therefore, it is not wise for an F-1 student to leave the U.S. unless all his/her documents are current.

International Student Handbook
Writing Center