UCSB International Students Advisory Board Provides Needed Representation on Campus

Photo Courtesy of International Student Advisory Board | UCSB

Minh Hua
Campus Beat Reporter

Established in winter 2018, the International Students Advisory Board (ISAB) advocates for the academic support and intercultural competency of international students at UC Santa Barbara. The Board’s six active members are currently engaged in research to understand the individualized experiences of international students on campus and to unmask common stereotypes.

In 2018, international students made up 12 percent of the undergraduate student population and 31 percent of the graduate population. Over 70 percent of the total international student population comes from the People’s Republic of China, followed by four percent from India. There has been a steady increase in both the undergraduate and graduate international student population percentage, as seen by the fact that the respective numbers were eight and 26 in 2016 and 10 and 29 in 2017.

According to the Office of International Students & Scholars (OISS)’s website, ISAB “is a select group of both international and U.S. undergraduate and graduate students. [sic].” Currently, the board consists of two domestic students and four international students from four different countries, ranging from sophomores to seniors.

Members attend weekly meetings, participate in international student life at UCSB, and help OISS identify opportunities for improving the campus climate for international students. Undergraduate members receive two independent study units in return (graduate students are not eligible for units).

Bettering the Experience of International Students

Speaking from their own experiences of social misconception, cultural stereotyping, and political underrepresentation, ISAB board members expressed their desire to better the experience of their fellow international students at UCSB.

According to Joyce Lu, ISAB board member and a third year economics and accounting major, international students’ issues are usually expressed by professors or administration, often leaving out the nuanced facets that comes directly from students’ individual experiences. As a result, much of the Board’s work involves researching and collecting data on international students. This can be in the form of articles concerning international students, initiatives at other campuses, and email surveys.

“ISAB acts as a ‘bridge’ between OISS and the international students community,” said Erika Shinoda, fellow board member and second year communication major with a theater minor, “ISAB creates a space where we feel free to say as students what needs to be fixed. We can say it directly to the adults who are working and they can give us feedback on what’s realistic and what’s not.”

To better include student perspective, the Board hosts events and generates email surveys that are sent out to international students through OISS, providing a potential outlet to voice their stories.

As a Chinese international student, ISAB Board member Daniel Gao, a second year global studies major minoring in applied psychology and education, observed how Chinese international students are often perceived to be a homogeneous group of wealthy students.

“I’ve been here for two years and I’ve heard many things like [Chinese students] are just a bunch of rich kids who’s trying to get an American diploma. They have money so they don’t care about anything,” said Gao. “This is not real.”

Gao’s observation is not unique to UCSB. In an interview with BBC Three, CEO of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) Dominic Scott stated, “There is always going to be a small, possibly loud minority who are going to drive their Lamborghinis through Mayfair, and they’re going to be highly visible. But the truth is that the vast majority of the 400,000 international students in the UK struggle to get enough money to come and fulfill their dreams.”

According to the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, the 2019-2020 academic year cost of attendance for Non-California Residents is $61,683, nearly double the $32,691 of California Residents.

In addition to the financial burden, most international students stress about the prospect of finding a visa-sponsoring internship or job, because their F1 Visas expire exactly one year after graduation. The internships that they can realistically apply for are also limited.

According to Lu, “International students have a hard time finding internships and are left to apply to the top companies because smaller firms don’t sponsor visa.”

“It doesn’t matter how good you are if you don’t have citizenship because [companies] don’t want to pay for your visa when they have the option to hire domestic students,” added Lu. Additionally, international students are also barred from most off-campus jobs due to the constraints of their F-1 visa.”

Moreover, many of the Board’s members agree on the difficulty of obtaining funding from Associated Students (A.S.) for international students-related events. According to Shinoda, it was only with the recent creation of the A.S. Global Gaucho Commission, a committee dedicated toward representing and allocating funding to international organizations on campus, that the community finally has a say in student government.

Charles Neumann, the organization’s chair, explained that “Unfortunately, as the International Student Advisory Board is a class as well as under a university office, it is not able to access funding from A. S.”

“Talking about resources for international students as a whole, historically and even currently …  Associated Students has not adequately supported the international community as a whole, which is one of the reasons the Global Gaucho Commission was created,” continued Neumann. “While the Commission is very new and, as a result, is only just beginning to become organized enough to adequately tackle that issue, I believe that the Commission will be able to serve that purpose as an AS entity for international students.”

“If we pay a significantly higher tuition than American students, then do we not, at the very least, deserve to get equal opportunities and access to the same resources?” said Churay. “I want to be treated the same way you are treated. There are so many things that international students are left out of.”

Consequently, the Board engages in weekly research into scholarly discourse and student surveys in order to identity and propose solutions to the aforementioned issues. For some of the Board members, the solution involves a social collaboration between students of from all sides.

Offering a critical examination of his community, Gao states that Chinese students, who make up 73 percent of the international student population, need to break out of their comfort zone and connect with the local population.

“There’s in invisible cultural gap that we are too shy to cross,” said Gao. “In my opinion, our relationship with local students are getting worse — I heard a classmate say that we are here to take their [the local students’] opportunities.”

According to Shinoda, Churay and Gao, the Board’s diversity is a great example of the productive collaboration of cultural differences. With representatives from China, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Dubai, and many others, the path to pancultural understanding is an acknowledgement of individual differences and a celebration of individual similarities.

Speaking to the diversity, Phuong Bui, a third year economics and accounting major, stated that because her respective community makes up just around 1 percent of the international students community, serving on the Board takes as much pancultural empathy as individual pride in one’s own culture.

Last quarter, the Board members presented on each of their countries’ education systems.

“Daniel talked about what it was like to grow up in China and Hana talked about what it was like to grow up in UAE, and I talked about my experience going abroad. My six months in one country was not the same as their 18 years in one. It was so interesting hearing about different education systems throughout the word — like the Taiwanese and Chinese education system is crazy. I thought my life was hard with AP testing but it is not hard [compared to their tests],” said Meg Winnet, a fourth year global studies major and English minor and Board member.

In addition, the Board’s many members are involved with on campus cultural organizations such as Japanese Students Association (JSA), Chinese Students Association (CSA), and Lebanese Social Club, and have described these organizations as a cooperative space for local students to immerse themselves in a different culture as well as a place for international students to feel at home.

For others, the solution involves a recognition that every Gaucho shares similar struggles as students.

Moving forward, the Board is trying to find a summer storage space for international students. The Board members state that one of the most pressing, but often latent struggle, that international students face is the separation from their family.

According to Winnet, “There seems to be a need for summertime storage space…[international students] aren’t just going to lug their bed frames back to [their countries]. We are considering if this should only be marketed as exclusively for international students. We are also looking at survey methods and sending it out to the OISS email chain and hopefully getting a lot of response just to gauge how much of a problem this actually is.”

“I’m so proud of everything we do, and just having seen so many perspectives because we are such a diverse group. I’m proud of just learning about the different cultures and having the facts,” said Churay.

Interested Gauchos can apply until May 15 at the link http://oiss.sa.ucsb.edu/programs/international-student-advisory-board to serve on the Board.