This past Thursday, Apr. 7, students came together to discuss topics relevant to the on-campus international community at the “Study Abroad in the USA” event hosted by the International Student Mentor Program (ISMP). The annual event, held at the Students of Color Alliance (SOCA) Lounge at Pomona College, was open to international and domestic 5C students.
“This event was created with the intent to foster a dialogue about issues that specifically affect ISMP and the greater international community,” wrote Leyla Akay PO ’18, one of the students involved in planning the event, in an email to TSL. “In creating a space for international students to talk to each other and domestic students, we aim to discuss these issues, share them with domestic students, and work together to find concrete solutions.”
The event was facilitated by student panelists Laura Haetzel PO ’19, Kajung Hong PO ’16, Nina Mueller PO ’19, and one of ISMP’s current Head Mentors Saad Nadeem PO ‘17. Head Mentors Chihiro Tamefusa PO ’16 and Hélène Ries PO ’16 also attended the event. Students Haruka Sano PO ’18 and Madhura Jayaraman PO ’18 were also involved in the planning of the event.Topics that arose during the “Study Abroad in the USA” discussion included the discrepancy between the experiences of international students in the countries they identify as home and in the United States, the structural and social challenges of studying at a North American college, and shifting senses of personal and group identity.
Bethel Geletu PO ’19 brought up the topic of “identity politics” during the discussion. Geletu commented on the way discourse on-campus can often be distinct from that experienced in the countries students identify as home.
“When you say someone’s wrong or right, it’s not as clear as the classroom makes it out to be,” Geletu said. Geletu and other students also noted the manner in which many international students feel like they are viewed as “representative” of their countries and cultures.
Another topic that was discussed was the limited degree to which international vantage points may be presented at the Colleges.
“There’s just no room for that communication, and our context is always missing from that context,” Danielle Deborah Maoz PO ’18 said during the discussion, going on to ask, “How do we engage in dialogue with the US context?”
Frustrations with the minimal international student support provided by the Pomona College administration were also brought up. Policy problems such as the ambiguity and impending change in the issuance policies for Curricular Practical Training (CPT) work authorization, as well as the minimal support provided by the administration for the international community, arose during the discussion.
“It’s really up to the College to decide the interpretation of CPT policy,” Haruka Sano PO ’18 said during the discussion. “When it’s not really clear, it’s really frustrating for us. At the end of the day, we’re the ones [international students] who have to negotiate with administration.” When asked what might be done to raise awareness of international student issues on campus, Akay wrote, “An international center at Pomona is long overdue.”
Although topics relevant to the international student community at the 5Cs were brought to the fore, the means through which international students and domestic students might foster a deeper dialogue were also discussed.
“We need to maybe bridge the gap,” Geletu said. To this regard, Maoz brought up the potential for international students to be effective allies with domestic students who continue to struggle for equal representation, saying “We know what it’s like to have our context missing.”
The productive discussions that occurred at “Study Abroad in the USA” are a powerful indication that, while there remain certain understandings to be deepened and connections to be forged, international and domestic students may serve as allies for each others’ communities.
Editor's Note: The author of this article served as one of the panelists at this event.