Traveling miles from home to go to college can be taxing on anyone, especially when it’s internationally. As I discussed in my last post, West Virginia University has many clubs and organizations based solely around diversity and students of different cultural backgrounds. One of those clubs is called the Indian Students Association, or as members like to call it, ISA. The association is very active and includes about 400 students, often having dinners as well as get-togethers.
“The goal of the association is to provide a congenial atmosphere for the student community from India.”
I had the pleasure of speaking to a former member of the ISA here at WVU, Susmita Patel, as she clued me in on happenings of the association. Aside from helping to put on different dance performances for Tarang, Diwali, diversity week, Indian Independence Day and other student organizations, Patel says there is much more to the association than performing dances.
Luckily she has never felt out of place or discriminated against in Morgantown, and even expressed that no one she knows has felt that way either. A culture shock upon first stepping foot into Morgantown seemed rather normal and exciting to her, though some international students might not be as excited. Although it may seem extremely diverse to a typical student, international students may feel like there is nobody to call “friend” or even “family.”
Student organizations like the ISA take control as soon as these students get off of the plane from India. They do so by picking them up from the airport and arranging a place to live, and even easing them into other school activities. These student associations create somewhat of a niche for all students to form their home away from home, giving them a sense of security and people to hang out with that they can trust.
Patel went on to tell me that every semester the ISA helps the new students from India to integrate into the social norms of the United States, especially if it’s their first time being here. It can be very scary, and can cause feelings of disorientation. To help with the transition, ISA holds an event called Freshers that acts as a type of icebreaker among the existing and new students.
“Freshers is very helpful, especially because they can find their place amongst potential friends, this way no one feels out of place or like that have to change themselves to fit in.”
The Freshers party is a huge way to combat feelings of not fitting in. The current students show the ins and outs, regarding social norms or even school work. Both parties, new students and old, benefit from each other during this process making integration much simpler.
American-born students still hold to the cultures and traditions of their ethnic backgrounds, though they may not completely understand the real cultural meaning behind some of the traditions, like language. This is where the international students can really help the more Americanized students in understanding their culture. On the other hand, the American students help the international students to lighten up and have a little fun, teaching them to become more outgoing and to open up socially.
Diversity clearly affects everyone in a positive way. Let’s hope we can show our loving spirit over the next few years and welcome even more international students to the Mountaineer family!
If you or someone you know would like to connect with ISA members, visit their Facebook page!
-All photos from Susmita Patel.