The Howard University Student Association (HUSA) hosted Global Minds Matter, a discussion panel featuring three international students who spoke about the importance of finding a community of people from similar cultural backgrounds on campus. As well as some of the challenges involving financial stability, finding housing, and pursuing professional development opportunities.
At around 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 9, the panel of international students who individually come from Kenya, Ethiopia, and Jamaica, sat next to each other in chairs beside moderator and HUSA Campus Health staff member, senior Naomi Brown.
During the discussion, Amen Haileselassie, a senior from Ethiopia, spoke about one of the difficulties that she has faced as an international student.
“When you’re an international student and you become an upperclassman…it’s very unlikely that you will have housing. So now being a full-time international student who has to pay rent here is another nightmare,” Haileselassie said. “…my parents can’t send me money to pay rent so I have to figure that out and that’s like another barrier that’s just added on to everything else.”
Junior Esther Ndungu who is studying abroad from Jamaica added to the conversation by speaking about the obstacles she faced when trying to find off-campus housing.
“…looking for housing was another, it’s already hard enough trying to find housing, affordable housing in D.C. Then trying to find affordable housing under the requirements that we have,” Ndungu said.
Ndungu speaks to a few of the requirements many international students struggle with when searching for off-campus housing which can include possessing a social security number, having established credit, and obtaining a co-signer. The panelists expressed that these requirements can be difficult to meet without U.S. citizenship.
Another important topic of the panel included the significance of getting involved on campus and how vital it is to find a community for international students.
Freshman Gabrielle Clarke who is studying abroad from Jamaica spoke about how helpful her community has been.
“I know I’ve gotten a lot of assistance from others, the Caribbean community here and the international community and they’ve been extremely helpful with guiding me through the process and giving me disclaimers as to how to navigate it,” Clarke said. “Cause it can seem I don’t know I feel defeated and it can be very taxing mentally.”
“…if you don’t have friends and a strong community,” Haileselassie added, “I honestly don’t know how you’d make it as an international student. Like I couldn’t have done it.”
“Definitely, you have to rely on a bunch of people,” Ndungu said. “It’s hard…like I have to rely on my roommate for me to be able to get housing. You just have to rely on a lot of people to get information…,” Ndungu said.
The panelists commended student organizations like International Pals (IPALS), the African Student Association (ASA), and other cultural organizations on Howard’s campus for providing them a space to connect with other students of similar cultural backgrounds and the opportunity to broaden their network.
“The amount of help and guidance that they’ve given me, it’s invaluable because it is hard to navigate a new country, a new space, new people, new school, and just a new experience as an international student,” Clarke said.
“You have to actively seek out the communities that you want to be around and that was the first place that I felt like I would be able to make good connections,” Ndungu said. “It was difficult altogether but being able to find that little community.”
The panelists additionally touched on the obstacles that they face academically and professionally. Many of them expressed the unequal opportunity they experience in comparison to their non-international peers.
Ndungu said, “…being a stem major, one of the things that you do is research over the summer or trying to get a job. It’s typically very hard. There are a lot of requirements and one of the ones that we always cannot pass is ‘Are you a U.S. citizen?’ or ‘Are you a permanent resident?’ or ‘Are you a non-U.S. citizen?’”
The panelists expressed that pursuing professional development opportunities under their requirements is a significant setback. Clarke spoke about the privileges many non-international students have when pursuing these opportunities and feeling frustrated with the unmatched resources for international students.
“Americans –you’re used to having such a nice plethora of resources but it’s really crazy to see the amount of scholarships, internships, and job opportunities that are available to them, and then at the same time of course we’re also looking for the same things but we are at a huge disadvantage because…we are not a U.S. citizen,” Clarke said.
Howard University Counseling Service representative, Kelechi Fluitt, the Director of Outreach and Counseling Services, also spoke at the panel discussion. She stressed the importance of taking care of oneself and leaning on the resources provided.
“And so I get it that you’re trying to navigate a new country,” Fluitt said. “You’re trying to join organizations…you’re trying to just do all these wonderful things but if you don’t rest, if you don’t take care of yourself, if you’re not eating well, if you don’t show up as your best self…all of that means nothing.”
Copy edited by Alana Matthew