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### Retirement Celebration for Freeman, Dedicated Supporter of International Students, Set for Feb. 27

Feb. 26, 2024

Cassandra Thomas

Michael Freeman

Ryan Moh’s initial week at the University of Arkansas did not unfold as he had anticipated. Hailing from Malaysia, his journey as an international student to Arkansas left him feeling disoriented and uneasy in a foreign land.

It wasn’t until he participated in the immigration basics session organized by the International Students and Scholars Office that he crossed paths with Director Michael Freeman.

Recalling their first encounter, Moh shared, “His welcoming smile immediately put me at ease. I inquired about any additional documentation required for my immigration process, and his simple response was, ‘Nope, that’s it. Welcome to the university.’ That brief interaction completely transformed my perception of the university. Without that moment, I doubt my university experience would have blossomed into what it is today.”

Moh’s story is just one among the multitude of international students whose lives have been touched by Freeman, who is set to retire at the end of February after dedicating nearly four decades of service to the University of Arkansas, with 33 years spent as the director of International Students and Scholars. A reception honoring Freeman’s illustrious career will take place at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at the Graduate Student Lounge in Gearhart Hall.

The event aims to commemorate Freeman’s remarkable tenure, marked by the substantial growth in the university’s international student community and the expansion of student-centric initiatives. Freeman commenced his journey at the University of Arkansas in 1985 as a foreign student adviser. Initially considering a return to Japan, where he had previously taught English during his undergraduate years, Freeman’s life took a different turn — marriage, parenthood, and the opportunity to assume leadership as the director of International Students and Scholars when his predecessor departed.

During his early days at the university, the international student population stood at around 500, and the international office, under Freeman’s guidance, consisted of a mere three-member team comprising himself, an administrative assistant, and an intern.

Reflecting on that era, Freeman reminisced, “It was a more personalized setting back then. Everything was done on typewriters; computers were nonexistent, and I don’t even recall us having a fax machine.”

In the early 90s, the office’s focus shifted towards aiding international student organizations with their programs, in addition to offering guidance on study abroad opportunities and international student affairs. While overseeing programs like the International Culture Team and the iFriend program, Freeman played a pivotal role in expanding and enhancing these initiatives to better serve the international community. He adeptly navigated the evolving landscape of international education over the years.

Throughout the transformations, Freeman’s welcoming demeanor towards international students remained unwavering.

“Michael Freeman epitomizes a warm embrace extended to all who step foot into the University of Arkansas,” remarked Kiera Michailoff-Russell, an international alumna from Canada. “From my very first day as a graduate assistant in the ISS Office, Michael provided unwavering support, ensuring I felt valued and respected as a part of the team. Through transitions, a pandemic, and various challenges, Michael stood as a pillar of calm and confidence for me. He truly embodies the essence of a positive leader.”

Having collaborated with Freeman since 2000, Audra Johnston, associate director in the ISS Office, attested to Freeman’s profound impact on international students, highlighting his patience and supportive leadership style over the past 24 years.

“Michael has left an indelible mark on all the students and scholars he has encountered — they recognize his genuine care and concern,” she affirmed. “Whether it was offering congratulations during commencement or standing by their side in times of need, he has consistently demonstrated his support.”

“He genuinely celebrates our students’ achievements,” added Lauren Denny, front desk administrator in the ISS Office. “His passion for leading an international office shines through in his interactions with students. The joy students experience when engaging with him is palpable, and his presence at events means the world to them.”

Freeman, reflecting on his career, expressed his fondest memories revolving around the people — the students, scholars, and the ISS Office staff.

“I take pleasure in revisiting old files and recognizing familiar names,” he shared. “Arkansans are exceptionally warm, welcoming, and authentic, which has made my journey immensely rewarding.”

Colleagues from the Graduate School and International Education acknowledged Freeman’s legacy in fostering community and a sense of belonging among international students.

“Michael’s impact on our campus during his tenure is immeasurable,” remarked Ed Pohl, dean of the Graduate School and International Education. “Not only has he overseen a significant rise in our international student numbers, but he has also expanded programs and services that have fostered a closely-knit community and a feeling of inclusion for our international students. All of this, he has achieved with a gentle, reassuring demeanor that has defined his time at the University of Arkansas.”

Members of the ISS Office fondly recalled Freeman’s infectious laughter.

“One of the things I cherish most about Michael is his laughter. It’s truly contagious,” shared Michailoff-Russell.

“His laughter is a sound to behold,” added Johnston. “Though soft-spoken, his laughter resonates across the room, filling it with pure, infectious joy. It’s a reassuring sound that uplifts everyone. It’s like medicine for the soul.”

Reflecting on her professional journey alongside Freeman, Johnston added, “Working with Michael for the past 24 years has been an enriching experience. He has not only taught me valuable lessons on advising and leadership but also on being a better human being.”