Andrea Ng received a message from a girl she hadn’t spoken to since middle school after a student group shared Ng’s experience of having to develop a Californian accent when she first moved to the United States.
“She talked about how she has literally almost the exact same experience (as me), but in Australia,” said Ng, a fourth-year psychology student.
Ng’s story was featured by Second Impressions at UCLA, a student group that showcases the lives of international students through interviews and photographs posted on its Facebook page. It was founded in 2017 by Pallavi Samodia, an alumna who graduated in 2018.
Samodia said she was inspired to start a chapter of Second Impressions at UCLA after hearing about its work at college campuses nationwide.
Samodia said she liked how the style of Second Impressions resembles that of “Humans of New York,” a project that showcases the experiences of everyday New York residents but has since branched out across the world. She added she wanted to use that style to help domestic students understand the challenges international students face as well as to show international students they are not alone in their struggles.
“With ‘Humans of New York,’ I often feel like when you see the picture, you often think, ‘Look at these people, look at their clothes, they’re probably from a very good family and everything,’” Samodia said. “But when you read the story that went along with it you go, ‘Wow, I would never think that this person went through this kind of shit.’”
Samodia, who moved from India to attend UCLA, said she wished she had known when she first started college that other international students were also affected by issues such as homesickness and adjusting to a new culture.
“The thing about homesickness – people you want to call the most who can share your struggles, you cannot. And so with more and more people during this interview process, I was like, ‘I wish I would have known all these people before,’” she said. “I wish I would have met them and realized, ‘Okay, someone else was feeling the same way as I did.’”
Gwyneth Sue Ern Teo, the director of Second Impressions and a fourth-year business economics student, said the group looks for international students to feature by letting students fill out a Google form on the group’s Facebook page.
Teo said the group then interviews the students and lets them tell any stories they want to share.
Peggy Wong, an editor and board member at Second Impressions and a fourth-year communication student, said every person the team meets has a different story, and she tries to showcase parts of their lives that most UCLA students may not be familiar with.
“It’s more than about just the international students (while they’re) at UCLA,” she said. “We ask a lot about what’s going on in the country. … It’s more in-depth questions.”
After the interview, the student meets with one of Second Impressions’ photographers for a picture and then approves the final draft so the student can ensure they have not accidentally shared any sensitive information, Teo said.
Teo said Second Impressions then posts the completed profile on its Facebook page. She said the whole process usually takes about one to two weeks.
Ng said being contacted by her friend after so long made her realize her experiences were more universal than she had originally thought.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I’m not alone. The people that I know, personally, are also affected by this problem, or have similar experiences than I do,’” she said. “I think that’s very important.”
Wong said she thinks Second Impressions provides a platform for readers to make personal connections with international students.
“That’s why we’re called Second Impressions,” Wong said. “There are a lot of us, so we just pass by each other, and we usually just have that … one first impression of international students. (This organization) gives us a way to provide a different perspective.”
Ng said she thinks Second Impressions can combat stereotypes domestic students may have about international students.
“(People) don’t really ask really about your experiences, and things you’ve gone through here,” she said. “And if they don’t ask, a common perception is just that you’re, for lack of better word, like a cash cow for the university.”
Teo said the organization plans to open an exhibition in Kerckhoff Hall to display some of its profiles from May 5 to May 11. She added it is also working on building its own website.
Being part of Second Impressions has allowed her to appreciate UCLA’s diverse population, Teo said.
“You can get very caught up in a lot of the goals you want to achieve at UCLA personally … and not appreciate the beauty of the different perspectives people around you have to offer,” she said.