EDITOR'S NOTE: Eastern Michigan University's 15,000 students arrive in Ypsilanti from 50 states, and 83 countries, bringing with them diverse cultures and backgrounds. This series explores that diversity by featuring campus organizations designed to highlight and share the beauty of cultures from around the world.
Last week: The Arab Society
This week: International Student Association
Next week: Latinx Student Association
Creating a “Home Far From Home” for students on campus is the main goal of this Eastern Michigan University’s International Student Association (ISA).
ISA, which has a long presence at EMU, is a place for students from all over the world to come together and share experiences, organize and host cultural programs, and help everyone on campus learn about the different cultures around them.
Chotika Pitaktouyhan, an EMU senior psychology student from Thailand and the current president of ISA, has been participating in the organization since her freshman year in 2019.
“The people that I worked with are kind of like mentors to me and we’re still hanging out every week and I look up to them as a family,” Pitaktouyhan said. “It’s different when you have a friend that you can share the same story with because we are from different places too. So they’ll be like ‘oh, I miss this thing,’ and I’ll be like ‘oh, I miss this thing too,’ and then we just share the feelings and everything together.”
ISA’s executive board are the only official members of the organization, working together to brainstorm ideas and host a diverse array of cultural events, open for all EMU students to attend.
As president, Pitaktouyhan works alongside Columbian-American Nicholas Meija, who serves as vice president and is the only domestic e-board member in ISA.
Arab Society e-board members Yemeni Ziad Sabri and Egyptian Somaya Eissa also serve in ISA: Sabri in the role of vice president of finance; and Eissa as secretary. Jordanian Sara Herzallah serves as vice president of event planning. Nepali Adarsha Dev serves as vice president of public relations. Indian Fanny Vijjeswarapu serves as vice president of marketing; and Nepali Somen Shrestha serves as a member at large.
For ISA’s members, the organization is a place where they are able to be themselves and form bonds with people who share similar stories.
Unlike other cultural organization’s on campus, ISA is not specific to one culture or country, but rather represents everyone from every community around the world.
On Sept. 23, the group hosted its first event of the year, a welcome night titled “Home Far From Home,” setting the tone for the next two semesters with greetings and games.
“I know it’s hard because people complain a lot about being far away from home, missing family, being homesick, missing all the food, but the most we can do is to make people feel like the environment here is good,” Pitaktouyhan said. “You can have great friends, great people, great social events and you don’t have to feel like this place is somewhere you don’t want to be.”
Whether a student’s home is 15 minutes from campus or a 15-hour flight, being in a brand new place away from family can be hard, and having a welcoming campus environment can make a huge difference.
“Everybody that lives on campus is away from home, so we want to make a home for them,” said Vice President of Public Affairs Adarsh Dev, a civil engineering student at EMU.
The group has big plans for the current school year, with major events emerging and others returning after a long hiatus.
First, ISA wants to host a Bollywood night in honor of Diwali, a festival of light celebrated in South Asia, happening this year on Oct. 24.
“It’s a festival for Hindus, but since it’s such a big event, all of these countries come together to celebrate it,” Dev said. “It is celebrated as a victory over bad power, so we have lights around, we have sweets and it’s really pretty, like there are fireworks and every home ... you will see lightings and music, food, everything.”
ISA plans to incorporate Diwali festivities into a Bollywood party night, tentatively happening Saturday, Oct. 22.
“We have a plan that we are going to celebrate both of these things together,“ Dev said. “We want to bring a lot of people, we want to have some lighting, have some good music.”
Another big event that ISA is looking forward to this year is "Colors In Harmony," something that is normally annual, but hasn’t happened the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hours-long event is a culture show where people from all over the world come to showcase something from their country’s culture.
“One of the events that we want to do is in December which will be three hours, four hours of event in one of the ballrooms where we want representation of each and every country that we have on campus to perform or to showcase their culture or something that represents them,” Dev said. “For that we need help from every student association that we have on campus, especially those that are related to the cultural organizations or that are international organizations.”
For the culture show specifically, ISA’s goal is to have good participation from everyone on campus, and get people hyped for the event beforehand, and discussing it afterwards.
ISA "represents diversity of our campus,“ Dev said. “This year, we want to be the face and be more forward to represent that diversity. We want to gain people’s attention that we exist."
Events happen with people, and one of ISA’s main goals is to get more people involved and bring attention to the organization.
“I want everyone to explore the world with us,” Pitaktouyhan said. “People don’t even know that ISA exists, some of them, and I get it. This year, I’m trying to make sure that even domestic people know about us.”
ISA’s leading members want EMU students to know that everyone is welcome to participate in the organization’s events, not just international students. The events are prepared by international students, but are meant for every person on campus to actively learn about different cultures and places around the globe.
“Over the past few years, the problem that ISA had was that we didn’t have a lot of engagement,” Dev said. “People have that misconception that ISA is only for international students and it is not that. ISA is just a representation of international students, but everything that we do, we want to do it for everybody.”
Dev said that EMU should include and acknowledge ISA in conversations about diversity and inclusion, as it would be beneficial to not just the organization, but the university overall. ISA showcases a real example of the way that diversity, and learning about it, is actually present to students on campus.
“Next thing that I’m going to do is, I’m going to prepare the next set of individuals who can lead this organization in the future, that are people who are very interested. And I want them to see us closely because they can do way better than we are doing," Dev said. "I’m gonna put that sense of responsibility in them as the year passes.”
With hard work, ISA’s first event already attracted a larger attendance than last year, but the group wants to continue to grow participation through the next big events and into the future.
“This year, I want people to know that ISA is going to be bigger,” Dev said.
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