By KAREN SHENG
For The News-Letter
The Student Government Association (SGA) partnered with the Office of International Services (OIS) to host an International Students Forum in Shaffer Hall last Thursday. According to an email sent to students, the goal of the forum was to “discuss key initiatives [the OIS and SGA] have been undertaking to improve the quality of student life for international students at Hopkins.”
Sophomore Class President Anna Du, Freshman Class Senators Mi Tu, A.J. Tsang and Akshay Bhamidipati and Senior Class Senator Saman Baban introduced the topics of discussion that included how to improve orientation, OIS programming, holiday breaks, peer mentoring, academics, extracurriculars and communication.
Du explained the event’s objectives.
“The purpose is to have a casual conversation about some of the topics that we think would be great to strengthen [Hopkins’] international student program,” she said.
The handful of international students present were invited to share their backgrounds, their experiences acclimating to American culture and their perceptions of Hopkins and Baltimore.
A few students expressed concern over adjusting to American culture. Freshman Diva Parekh, an international student from India, said that it was “scary” when she got yelled at by an Fresh Food Café (FFC) employee for taking her used plate back to the line to get more food.
OIS Director Scott King said that such misunderstandings could be easily solved by posting more informative signs around the FFC, and SGA Executive Vice-President Charlie Green said that issues like these would be taken to Director of Dining Programs Bill O’Connor.
“These are definitely things that we’re going to be bringing up to Bill O’Connor, who’s in charge of food, so we’re glad to hear,” Green said.
Many participants, including freshman Eren Aldis, an international student from Turkey, voiced concerns about Hopkins lacking an international student community with a perceptible presence on campus.
“I feel like there is no international community. I’m not aware of other international students when I walk past them,” Aldis said.
Global Friendships Club President Noor Khalil, a senior international student from Egypt, addressed some of the difficulties of bringing international students together on campus.
“One of the main difficulties we’re having is finding international students at [student involvement fairs] and getting people to read the emails,” Khalil said. “We had one person actually come to the meeting so it’s hard to find international students.”
Senior Class Senator Saman Baban responded to Khalil.
“[King] and the Office have worked very hard to bring a new position to the Office called the International Outreach and Immigration Coordinator and what the position will do is that the person will focus on immigration, orientation and social and intercultural programming in support of Hopkins international students and scholars,” Baban said.
King explained that a full-time position dedicated to outreach as well as legal immigration issues will allow the OIS to focus more on organizing events for international students.
Some international students voiced displeasure about how Hopkins’ transfer credit and AP/IB credit policies were limited in scope, so their work in secondary school was not given due recognition. Freshman Class Senator Akshay Bhamidipati addressed this concern.
“So a lot of complaints that I’ve heard from the majority of international students at Hopkins is that their local boards in 12th grade were not recognized for Hopkins credit,” Bhamidipati said. “There are a lot of people from all over the world who did not do the IB program, but their curricula are as intense if not more intense than the IB curriculum, and they don’t receive credit for Introductory Chemistry or Biology.”
Du, one of the main organizers of the event, said that one of the goals of the forum is to start a conversation with the OIS administration to strengthen programs for international students. Tsang also said the SGA would be moving forward with bills and resolutions to improve international students’ quality of life.
“Our first plan of action is to pass a resolution creating an ad hoc committee on international students, which will allow not the student government, but the general public to be involved,” she said. “The ad hoc committee will meet monthly to discuss initiatives to make this inclusivity and this hospitableness continue for generations to come.”
Student reactions to the event were positive.
“I think it was very helpful now that I know the SGA and OIS actually listen to international students,” freshman Alexandra Marksteiner, from Germany, said. “I think that’s very helpful, and it’s not just always international students against the American students.”
Parekh agreed with Marksteiner.
“I liked that there’s a place where we could address everything,” Parekh said. “There are some really big issues like financial aid stuff that is a problem, but they’re a lot harder to fix, so I’m glad that we’re addressing problems that are easier to fix.”