On Tuesday, surrounded by oil paintings of Maine’s coast, a small group of students gathered for an intimate conversation in Lancaster Lounge about the presence of international voices at Bowdoin and the neglect international students feel on campus. The event was inspired by the experiences of international students at Bowdoin, some of whom feel underappreciated or unsupported at the College.
Titled “International Students: Why Should We Care?” Tuesday’s event was advertised as a space for both international and domestic students to have an open discussion about the significance of having international perspectives represented across campus. This discussion, along with an accompanying event yesterday called “Working in the United States as a Foreign National,” was part of International Week, a larger programming series sponsored by the International Students Association (ISA).
Cheng-Chun (Kevin) Yu ’19, a leader of ISA, was prompted to create more educational events, as opposed to more food-oriented events last year, for this semester’s International Week because of a lack of discourse he saw on campus.
“I wanted to move away from using international students as a food provider for the rest of the campus and wanted, instead, to help other students learn more about our experiences here and the general fact that we exist,” Yu said.
When asked about his participation in the Tuesday event, Ural Mishra ’20, who serves on the board for ISA, expressed a need for campus awareness of other student’s perspectives.
Other students expressed similar reasoning for attending the talk. Neoma Daniel ’20, a domestic student, chose to come because of an interest in understanding other students’ experiences.
“There are some people that love Bowdoin, and there are parts of their identity that influence that and help them feel comfortable here,” Daniel said. “And there are other people who have different identities or identities that intersect and don’t feel as comfortable or feel like they can’t call Bowdoin home.”
Mishra thinks it is important to have spaces like the Tuesday talk for all international students—despite their disparate cultures and backgrounds—to express collective concerns.
“International students are not heard enough. I would say [that is] because it is a small fragmented minority group on this campus. While international students are seen as collectively one body, sometimes on a cultural level it’s hard to connect. The unifying experience is that we are not from the states,” Mishra said.
The small size of the community, Mishra noted, can be attributed to the College’s low international student representation across class years. Bowdoin has the lowest percentage of international students out of all NESCAC schools. Last spring, many international students told the Orient that they felt support from the College was lacking—particularly with respect to the Career Planning Center and other aspects of the administration.
“As much as Dean Khoa Khuong [assistant dean of first-year students and advisor to international students] is helpful, his role as a member of the dean’s office as ‘the person who international students can go to’ is too much. He is doing too many things,” said Yu. “Along with being a first-year dean, he is also in charge of 150 other international students. When you look at other colleges of the same tier or size, they have at least one faculty on staff that is dedicated to international students.”
Yu believes it is Bowdoin’s duty to offer all students an equal opportunity to succeed.
“In setting up that environment for us to succeed, it might require you to set up these resources. But if you aren’t interested in that whole process, you should not have recruited students from around the world,” Yu said.
While Yu wants specific resources for international students, the events this week were for everyone. He hopes that students walked away from Tuesday’s conversation with more knowledge about the visibility of international students and that Thursday’s event taught attendees about the struggles of working in the US as a foreigner, which he thinks is important in the current American political climate.
Yu said he has been working with Michael Reed, Bowdoin’s new senior vice president for inclusion and diversity, on changes in the works that could benefit international students. But to some, the changes can’t come soon enough.
“There is an entire world of students that could exceed expectations and be phenomenal students here that contribute to discussion on the campus,” Mirsha said. “Progress is being made. We’re just ambitious and want to see more.”
Editor’s Note May 4, 2018: The title of the event on Thursday has been corrected. It was titled, “Working in the United States as a Foreign National,” not “Working in the United States as a Foreigner.”