Two months ago, second-year global studies and political science student Nis Hamid opened up about her experience being targeted by federal immigration policy. Although two judges have since stopped the immigration ban, she still regularly suffers from anxiety disorder and panic attacks – months after the ordeal.
Hamid, who is now part of the policy committee of the International Student Leadership Coalition, said that isolation from being barred from visiting her family back home exacerbated her mental health. Moreover, the lack of awareness about the plight international students face makes it hard for her to share her experiences with others.
International students are an integral part of the the university’s social fabric. However, we have specific needs that are not being addressed by existing resources on campus. We at ISLC seek to ensure that the voices of international students are heard and addressed by establishing a liaison with the Undergraduate Students Association Council external vice president’s office and building our own lobbying task force to lobby on legislation concerning issues like the travel ban, work permits, tuition fee hike and financial aid.
The ISLC policy committee understands that meaningful advocacy for international students starts with direct conversation with our community. Through our town hall, we were able to identify key domains that have huge impacts on the experience of international students. Their top priorities include mental health, community experience, academic advancement and career development.
Mental health is one pressing issue many international students face. The conversation is often wrought with stigma associated with weakness, guilt and shame. Coaxing international students to come forward requires awareness and counselors who are sensitive to our cultural context. Sharing information between Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars and UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services and incorporating the intersectionality of international students within existing mental health campaigns can go a long way toward helping these students.
Students have also expressed concern about the challenges they’ve experienced in navigating internship and career opportunities, regarding the eligibility of legal and visa statuses, among others. For the majority of international students pursuing doctorate degrees, job security is an ongoing concern, coupled with the uncertainty faced by their spouses in terms of visa status and work restrictions.
Moreover, international students are often unaware of resources available at UCLA Career Center, such as career counseling, resume critiques and BruinView job searches. Career Center representatives emphasize that they prepare a list of international-friendly companies at each career fair. However, many international students are still not aware. Kopal Seth, president of Bruins Beyond Borders and the chair of ISLC’s career committee, said her team is currently working with the Dashew Center and the Career Center to make career resources more accessible to the international student community while also strengthening the international alumni network.
Besides reaching out to the international student alumni, the student leaders of the coalition are also determined to find ways to provide scholarships and lobby against tuition fee increases. A stereotype that international students are rich and privileged remains, but in reality a sizable proportion of international students come from the lower-middle socio-economic class and have to obtain loans or borrow funds from relatives to come to the U.S. for a quality tertiary education.
International students’ community experience could also improve. In fact, students cite cultural differences as the reason international students overemphasize academics and downplay the importance of campus involvement. As such, international students don’t necessarily take advantage of campus resources and build communities outside the classroom. Some students believe a cross-cultural exchange program such as the Global Siblings program helped them better integrate within the local community. Nonetheless, the program application is limited to a fixed number of students – not all students who apply can participate.
The coalition committee acknowledges that there is still much work to do. However, the first step of addressing issues is to communicate and hear directly from the community. ISLC will remain committed to championing the rights of the international community. We will focus on general well-being, community experience, academic advancement and career development.
Ung is first-year political science and statistics student. Yi is a second-year political science and history student. Tan is a first-year political science and economics student.