Ever wondered what being an international student at Bowdoin entails? Shining light on the international student experience, “The I-20s: an International Student Exhibit” opened Wednesday night in David Saul Smith Union’s Lamarche Gallery as part of International Week programming.
The exhibit’s title is inspired by the I-20 form, a document issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that all international students on F1 visas must obtain and travel with. It confirms their immigration status and grants them permission to enter the country.
“I thought, what’s a better document to name the exhibit after than [one] that really symbolizes the international students’ initial experience coming to Bowdoin,” said Kevin Yu ’19, who first conceived of an exhibition dedicated to international students last year.
Now in its second iteration, the exhibition aims to give international students a platform to voice their stories and fight for greater visibility on campus, something Yu believes remains challenging for international students on campus.
The exhibit features portraits of twelve different international students, shot spontaneously during 15-minute interviews in which they answered a series of questions about their experiences at Bowdoin. Next to the portraits are three to four pictures that represent the subjects’ memories of home, along with a transcription of interviews.
The portraits were photographed by Radu Stochita ’22, an international student from Romania. He has seen the power of assumptions at Bowdoin, adding to the significance of the exhibit.
“We have our own cultures we represent … Even though people would look at me and see that I’m white, I’m in fact Romanian [and] I started navigating the whiteness only when I came to the States,” said Stochita, “I was not aware of my whiteness before, as opposed to many people.”
Each student was photographed wearing a plain white shirt, which Yu said was a purposeful curatorial choice.
“I got the inspiration from the women’s suffrage [movement],” said Yu. “The idea of white being a symbol of resistance, the rights and stories of a minority group, I thought, could be something that [would] apply to this exhibit.”
Yu also had the subjects dress in plain white clothing to draw attention to their faces, which were caught in real time on camera. For Yu, this contributed to the authenticity of the exhibit. Yu also intended for the text accompanying the photos to offer a candid look into the individual experience.
“All of these quotes were quoted verbatim, so you might see some grammar mistakes, but I wanted to keep them … [to] keep their authentic voices,” Yu said.
Adela Rios ’22, a non-international student who visited the gallery, appreciated the visibility the show gave to the international study body on Bowdoin campus.
“It’s a hard transition for some people,” said Rios. “It’s okay to recognize that and talk more about it because I don’t think [it’s] necessarily talked about enough.”
Darlene Ineza ’19, an international student from Rwanda who is featured in the exhibit, praised the exhibit’s potential to shed light on the lesser known aspects of the international experience.
“There are very unique and specific struggles we go through, like looking for internships, jobs, health insurance, taxes and travelling for holiday breaks, that shape our experience but that are mainly invisible to the rest of campus,” Ineza said.
Zeynep Tuna ’22, an international student from Turkey, hopes the exhibit will encourage more conversation about internationality on campus.
“Maybe it encourages [domestic students] to learn more about different cultures,” said Tuna. “They [could] deepen their knowledge of [other] countries in the world.”
The exhibit was sponsored by the International Students Association. It will be on view at the Lamarche Gallery until the end of the school year.