Bringing Carolina’s International Community Together
UNC Global Affairs
Satvik Chethan (left) and Jim Appiah (right) pose with a few decorative flags, celebrating the approval of their International Student Association in partnership with ISSS. (Photo by Maggie McIntyre)
Students form a new organization to create a space for cultural exchange, professional development and general support for international students.
When Jim Appiah, a senior from Ghana studying Chemistry, and Satvik Chethan, a junior from India studying business and information science, first came to Carolina as international students, they struggled to adjust. Like most international students that choose to study at universities in the United States, opening a bank account, securing a visa, registering for classes, finding housing, getting a SIM card and everything else they had to do upon arriving was unfamiliar and completely overwhelmed them. Appiah’s journey to Chapel Hill was his first time leaving his home country of Ghana. He felt alone, especially arriving in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He ate only the biscuits and hot chocolate he had packed in his suitcase for the first few days after he arrived to get a taste of home.
Their shared experience of adjusting to life in the U.S. led Appiah and Chethan to want to help other international students find their place on campus. Appiah and Chethan approached International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at similar times wanting to form an International Student Oganization. Appiah was more focused on professional development and acclimating international students to the U.S., whereas Chethan wanted to form a social network and a stronger international community. They fused their ideas together, wrote a constitution and have been approved as an official student organization. The new organization will be open to all students at UNC including undergraduate, graduate, international and domestic.
“I am delighted by the opportunity for ISSS to collaborate closely with the new International Student Organization,” said Ioana Costant, director of ISSS. “This partnership reflects our dedication to fostering a vibrant and inclusive global community on campus.”
ISSS staff will advise and work closely with the new International Student Organization. ISSS is the campus unit responsible for international student and scholar advising and immigration compliance, and also supports international student and scholar adjustment to life at Carolina. During the 2022-23 academic year, ISSS hosted 63 events for UNC’s international community, including multiple orientation sessions, workshops on filing U.S. income tax, outings to Carolina Athletics and Carolina Performing Arts events, and holiday celebrations. Costant said she expects this initiative to play a crucial role in assisting international students with their adjustment to life in the U.S., ensuring a smoother transition into a new academic and cultural environment.
“We really just want to create a space for everyone and create a solid system to help people adjust and find a community,” said Appiah. “We are here to create a cohesive environment to bring everybody together and help support each other.”
Chethan had been to the U.S. before arriving as a student but said traveling to a place and living in a place are two completely different experiences. Beyond the logistics they were navigating, he struggled to make friends and experienced culture shock in his new environment.
“The scariest part was, I think, the social aspect,” said Chethan, reflecting on his first semester at UNC. “I’m generally a very social person, but when I first came, I would be so wary and be so confused, I didn’t know what I could say or how to approach people and how they would perceive me.”
Chethan and Appiah found support systems and mentors through the ISSS office and Honors Carolina that enabled them to feel comfortable on campus. But they still believed there was a missing piece. They hope this new organization will provide a meaningful place for students to connect with each other and acclimate to life away from their home countries.
When he comes across a new international student, Appiah said he does everything he can to make sure they feel welcomed and well-adjusted. He remembers his own experience well and wants to be the mentor he never had to these younger international students.
“I want to cement what I’ve started by creating this organization,” he said. “I hope that this mentorship will be sustained and new international students who come in won’t feel alone.”
Appiah and Chethan want to host student-led cultural potlucks, language exchanges, professional networking events, fashion shows, and an annual cultural carnival to celebrate the different cultures of the international community at UNC — in addition to the support programs organized by ISSS. They are full of ideas, excited to get the organization up and running. They also hope their members aren’t limited to international students and want to include U.S. students to increase cultural exchange and encourage a global mindset for everyone on campus.
They expect the organization to accept its first members by January and have already had a positive initial reaction from the international community. “I know 100 years from now if these students are asked how their experience was at UNC, I know I’ll definitely be a part of their stories and that is so satisfying to me,” Appiah said.
February 16, 2024
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