Photo of four CWRU students holding a sign that says "You Are Welcome Here CWRU"

Campus Spotlight: International Student Advisory Council

A third-year student from Shanghai, China, Helio Dong distinctly remembers the difficulties he faced when he arrived at Case Western Reserve University in 2019. Facing a language barrier in an unfamiliar environment, Dong recalls the experience as “mind-blowing.” Now, as a member of the new International Student Advisory Council (ISAC), the computer science major is  ready to help CWRU’s approximately 2,000 international students navigate the transition to life in the U.S. and connect with support throughout their time at the university.

Dong is one of 14 students working to launch the ISAC, an effort organized through the Office of International Student Services in the Center for International Affairs.Each coming from diverse backgrounds, the students involved seek to represent and advocate for their international peers by sharing their perspectives with the office and increasing outreach. 

Both graduate and undergraduate students serve on the council and, in addition to diverse nationalities, represent a range of programs of study. Students serving on the council were selected from a nomination process (self-nomination or by others) that included interviews.

The members are:

  • Helio Dong;
  • Yiwen Gao;
  • Paola Giammattei;
  • Geng Hua;
  • Tejaswini Haraniya;
  • Fabiana Irigoyen;
  • Pooja Khatija;
  • Hyunjune Lee;
  • Laurie Celia Ngompe Mbiegue;
  • Thy Nguyen;
  • Atsadaporn Niyomyart;
  • Abolade Oladimeji;
  • Tenzin Palmo; and
  • Vivek Saraswat.

“ISAC members have chosen to join a team of talented, involved students who all want to make the university experience the best it can be for international students,” said Elizabeth Miller, assistant director of International Student Services.

Though they will have guidance from International Student Services staff, the ISAC will largely be student-driven. With the council debuting this semester, the students have yet to finalize their plans for the year, but Miller suggested their work may incorporate such activities as reconsidering onboarding for new international students at CWRU, planning special events and leading education efforts for the broader community. Their work seeks to improve international students’ trust in International Student Services and facilitate community-building beyond a students’ country of origin or area of study.

“What makes Case Western Reserve special is its people,” said Dong. “Interacting with people of different backgrounds, ethnicities and identities is a crucial part of the college experience, but sometimes international students (including me) are inclined to stay in our own social circles. Especially with the pandemic, we are losing a lot of connections.”

“As a part of ISAC, I hope to be a part of conversations and projects that help international students thrive and not just survive in the face of the challenges and build a supportive and strong community that identifies as truly international’ and combine the existing silos, to be able to celebrate the international student community at Case Western Reserve University,” said Pooja Khatija, a fourth-year in the PhD in organizational behavior program from Mumbai, India.

Now that he’s returned to campus and is working with the ISAC, Dong hopes to fill that gap.

“Our ISAC members have great ideas of what we could be doing, and they have the drive to turn those ideas into reality,” Miller said. “We as staff members are really looking forward to hearing their fresh perspectives and working with them throughout the year!”

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