Council consolidates foreign club efforts, expands students' worldview

University Park, Pa. -- Before Penn State senior Chris Lengerich went to Chile as a sophomore to study for a semester, the Hershey native had an interest in international relations. But he saw it from a new perspective when he came home.

"It opened my eyes to how many international students are on campus at University Park," he said, referring to more than 3,600 international students studying on campus. "It's amazing how, if you look, you can meet people from all over the world, but if you're not looking, you could very easily miss them too."

Lengerich said the people he met in Chile were so kind and helpful, knowing he was alone in a foreign country, that he wanted to do the same for international students studying at Penn State. A math and international studies major, Lengerich became an American executive officer on the International Student Council (ISC) at University Park to meet students from other countries and offer help to them in any way he can.

So did Natsuki Ikeda, a senior international politics student from Japan and president of ISC. Since joining the council two years ago, she has been working hard with other members to make it an umbrella organization for all international clubs on campus, of which there are at least 40.

"We want a bigger presence on campus so we can be a voice for international students," she said. "We want to help these students learn how to deal with issues or problems they are having when they're far from home, and we also want to promote cultural understanding through events."

A problem Ikeda knows some international students face when first arriving on campus is finding housing. Rebecca Eltz, interim program coordinator for international student services, said students from other countries don't always realize they need to sign up via e-mail for housing before they get to campus. With help from students in the ISC, they can aid them in securing housing before their arrival or they can use their connections with the other international campus organizations to find other students looking for a roommate.

"ISC can be a strong umbrella for the international community," Eltz said. "The whole campus will know to go to them to connect to any of the international organizations at University Park."

Eltz explained that the group was active in the 1980s and '90s and hit a plateau in the early 2000s. Ikeda and other members of the council recruited additional groups and individual members and also re-wrote the group’s constitution. Now they are focusing on the group's goals.

Beyond helping international students with issues they may face while going to school, ISC wants to promote cultural understanding through different events like the Spring Festival, an annual event showcasing Penn State's international organizations through interactive booths, a variety of international cuisine and performances from cultural groups. 

Ikeda said that, ideally, she would like to see more American students getting involved with ISC. Those who are on the council have studied or traveled abroad. She also would like to see more U.S. student participation because she thinks they could teach and learn from each other.

"It's a great opportunity for Americans to gain perspective," said Rachel Helwig, the education abroad adviser who also previously advised ISC. "We may hear about an earthquake in China but unless we know someone whose family or friends have been affected by it, it might not seem as significant. This is also a great way to promote internationalism."  

ISC has a number of committees still looking for volunteers. For more information e-mail Ikeda at psu.isc@gmail.com.
 

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Last Updated November 18, 2010