Gonzaga University's International Student Union (ISU) is an inclusive group for international students and non-international students to bond over their cultural differences and experiences.
According to the ISU President, Kamil Maharramov, the main goal of ISU this year is to build community among students from almost 50 different cultural backgrounds.
“We’re trying to build a community as a whole and combine different cultures, but sometimes it can be hard since we have members from around 47 different countries,” Maharramov said. “It’s really hard to make an informational session about each country in a meeting so it’s easier to reflect on numerous cultures as a whole because people come from different cultures and there’s unity through this.”
Maharramov said that he was offered the position since he understood the feelings of being an international student in the past and having exposure to living in the United States with a green card. Through this, he is able to lead the ISU community through two perspectives and help guide members through their needs.
Maharramov said that being a part of ISU is important to his personal life.
“ISU is a community where I can express my own thoughts and get to know more people from different cultures, get more knowledge and engage more with international students,” Maharramov said. “I am able to help people understand that there is nothing for them to be afraid of and that the community in United States is welcoming.”
Similarly, ISU Vice President, Michael Zhang said that ISU holds personal significance for him.
“ISU is an organization that unites all students, not just international students, but also American students so we can have a platform to express all our thoughts,” Zhang said. “For me, it’s more of a place where you have a great time and meet other people to make friends.”
Zhang said that it is vital that ISU continues to embrace cultural differences and build connections among international students as well as American students. He also talked about how he hopes to expose other international students to these cultures.
“I’m from China so I know a lot of Chinese international students and most of them are shy with making friends,” Zhang said. “This is one of the reasons I wanted to get into ISU so I could try to get more Chinese students into the club and help them learn different cultures and experience more because I think that’s one of the main reasons you study abroad.”
ISU Treasurer Juan Orellana said that ISU helped him find connections at GU.
“I joined ISU last year to see if I could find any international students from different backgrounds like myself, who is an international student from El Salvador,” Orellana said. “I lived and went to school in Singapore and I remember diversifying myself in all these different cultures and all these people from different backgrounds which was a refreshing experience and it made me feel like I belong and ISU is the same vibe.”
Orellana further explained how the exposure to people who experienced similar situations as an international student helped facilitate making friendships and also helped people understand each other’s backgrounds. He said being a part of ISU feels like a bridge between all the different cultures and that people similarly are finding their place at a new school and country they are not from.
Maharramov said that ISU is also focusing on being a family to members in the club and how international students can feel stressed as some are homesick and not able to return home due to their visas. Many of them are worried about what to do with their futures of returning to their families or staying in the U.S., he said.
He also said that this semester is mostly built around giving a family to ISU members, while next semester will be focused on finding alumni who used to be international students to help advise current students with finding which visa is best for them, their experience studying abroad and provide any guidance that members may need.
It is through these values of building a community through similar experiences and presenting different cultures among members that the club strives to lead by to bring unity among the members of ISU.
Maharramov, Zhang and Orellana said they hope for ISU’s population to grow to represent international students and also help them with their adjustment to a new environment. They also want people to understand that ISU is an inclusive club and that they welcome people of all cultures, as they are open to learning more about different cultures and helping create friendships.
ISU's International Education Week began Monday and ends on Friday. The week will end with an ISU Thanksgiving Food Fest. Students from ISU will be tabling throughout the week to share a piece of their different cultures to the GU community.
The ISU Thanksgiving Food Fest is sponsored by International Student and Scholar Services and will consist of numerous performances from ISU members and other cultural clubs. Dinner will also have multiple cultures represented as the club hopes to share all cultures that impact GU.
ISU meets on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. at the Center for Global Engagement in the John J. Hemmingson Center. For information on ISU events refer to their Instagram page @gonzaga.isu.