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Graduate Health Sciences Student Group Increasing Sense of Community Among International Students

In addition to social events, the International Students Association, offers resources for members including accommodation, transportation, and general transition tips. (Photo courtesy of ISA)

A student group in the College of Graduate Health Sciences at UTHSC is aiming to help international students better adjust to their new life in Memphis.

The International Students Association (ISA) has been active at UTHSC for several years, but has recently increased efforts to promote a friendly environment among students from diverse cultures.

“There are so many international students in our college and it becomes absolutely necessary to establish interactions among national and international students,” said Geetika Singh, who is from India. She is the immediate past president for ISA.

“I came together with my husband, I didn’t come alone,” said Violeta Pellicer Morata, who is from Spain and serves as ISA vice president. “But when you come alone to Memphis, which is a very different city than where you are from, different language, different culture, it’s a shock for you. You don’t know where to go. You don’t know where to buy groceries. You don’t know where to rent a house. That is a shock for us and we feel alone. Away from our families and friends, and that’s hard.”

Resources are available to members including accommodation, transportation, and general transition tips such as how to open a bank account, information on taxes, and where to shop for groceries. The group also hosts social events throughout the year.

When ISA president Sanjana Haque, who is from Bangladesh, was accepted to the Pharmaceutical Sciences program, she knew only one student at UTHSC. She was friends with ISA’s president at the time, a student in the Pharmaceutical Sciences program, who later became her husband.

Since she was not familiar with the city, she didn’t want to live by herself and through involvement with ISA, Haque was also able to find a roommate and an apartment when she moved to Memphis.

“Our goal is to create a platform to interact with each other,” Singh said. “So students can come and connect with each other. It’s hard when you transition from another country, you are lost in the beginning. You need people to come together to share their experiences.”

ISA members listen to a panel of faculty members during a recent Lunch and Talk event hosted in the SAC. (Photo courtesy of ISA)

A recent Lunch and Talk event was hosted in the Student Alumni-Center. It was well received, allowing the group to network with students, as well as with faculty interested in connecting their incoming international students to students currently enrolled at UTHSC.

“One faculty member came up to our table and said he wanted to accept an international student in his lab and connected with us,” Haque said. “He didn’t know who to reach out to and she didn’t know who to reach out to. Then he got to us, and I asked where is she from, and he said she is from Bangladesh, and I was so excited. ‘Yay, another Bangladeshi girl.’ ”

Through that connection, Haque was able to assist both this faculty member and the potential new student. The group plans to continue showcasing ISA during orientation and Graduate Research Day, with plans to showcase the different cultures on campus with their future events.

“The incoming students, they have lots of questions,” Haque said. “So, we try to help those people and the people who are already here. Our meetings and events are planned in a way so any international student can come and share their experiences and what they would like improved. Also, building leadership skills and how leadership can help with your career and CV.”

A positive transition experience also helps retain international students to stay in Memphis or the U.S., once they complete their programs of study.

“The beauty of this is that I never knew I would have friends from Bangladesh, India, and Venezuela,” said Pellicer Morata. “We may be isolated in the labs, but we don’t need to be.”