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International students band together to form community

International students band together to form community

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Our little campus by the bay doesn’t seem like it would attract a lot of international students, and it would be hard to point out the 40 of them here without asking directly.

That may sound like a small amount, but it is just enough for these students to justify creating the “International Community at USFSP.”

With the mission of connecting international students with one another, the new organization conducted its first meeting Wednesday, Feb 22. The group hopes to ensure that no international student attending the campus feels alone.

“This is our opportunity to give all incoming international students a community that they can immediately feel connected to,” said Andy Dang, adviser for the International Community.

It’s an opportunity for international students to have a home away from home, and the current international students are excited about it. Marcia Gralha, a sophomore psychology major from Brazil, feels this is an important group to help build connections with each other.

“I’m excited about this club,” said Gralha. “I really wish we can make connections inside the campus and outside the campus with new international students and the other students that are around here.”

International Community: President Ebuka "Ebby" Ezema addresses the international students at the first international community meeting last Feb. 22. Zenena Moguel | The Crow's Nest
International Community: President Ebuka “Ebby” Ezema addresses the international students at the first international community meeting last Feb. 22. Zenena Moguel | The Crow’s Nest

President of the community, Ebuka “Ebby” Ezema, business graduate student from Jamaica, wants to use the community to combat isolation.

“Precisely because we are small, so any international student that comes here, like when I came here, you feel like you’re the only one here,” said Ezema. “Right off the bat, you know it’s a small community and you don’t know who’s who. You can feel isolated.”

Using the organization’s resources, Ezema wants to provide support for these students.

“I don’t want international students to feel isolated,” said Ezema. “You’re already away from home. You already have the stress of school. The very least we can do is give you that support network initially when you come here, and then after that, we can make your stay here fun.”

Academic Program Specialist for Global Initiatives at USFSP Joseph Kenny, explained why it took so long for USFSP to put this community together.

“This campus started as an overflow campus for USF Tampa when it was founded,” said Kenny. “You have the USF System, us (St. Petersburg), Sarasota-Manatee and Tampa, all three part of the USF System. Each three separately accredited offering their degrees. The distinction is important because until you are a separate institution a lot of your operations are going to be based out of your home campus.”

USFSP didn’t become its own separate accredited institution until 2006, which may have contributed to the community’s long delay. Either way, Kenny is very excited about the community coming together as he believes it is one of the best things he has been able to do.

“I’ve been with the university a little over three years now,” said Kenny. “This is one of the more meaningful things I’ve been able to help with.”

However, for some students like Indhira Suero Acosta, journalism graduate student from the Dominican Republic, the creation of the community is bittersweet.

“It’s bitter because I’m leaving, and I won’t be enjoying as much of the club,” said Suero. “But it’s really nice that the other students that are going to come are going to be able to know how to go to the doctor, how to organize their visa, how to look for houses. I hope that the club works for that.”

Right now, the International Community is focusing on connecting the international students and building meaningful relationships with students who go through some of the same challenges.

Later on, the community hopes to be active on the campus and collaborating with other organizations like the Big Sisters for Psychology and the Caribbean Cultural Exchange. Most importantly, it aims to educate and celebrate diversity with not only international students but with the entire USFSP student and faculty community.

We are all global citizens with many diverse cultures. If you’re interested in learning and sharing diversity and culture, make sure to keep your eyes out for the International Community here at USFSP in the next few months and especially in the upcoming fall semester.

Photo by Zenena Moguel

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