By Hazel Fok

ISA is a student-led organization established in 2008 (which is relatively young comparing to most societies in CUHK) to meet the expanding needs of international undergraduate students in the CUHK in the recent years. To understand more about their vision and activities, as well as, the daily operation of the committee, I have interviewed two executive committees from the cabinet of ISA this year — Anju and Jessie.

What have you guys done ever since you inaugurated?

Jessie: From January to present, we have held the events like Pizza Night, Cycling, Kayaking, Journey to the World (with OSA), Tangyuan Workshop and so on. Even though it has only been a short period after the Inauguration, we have already worked on promoting an intercultural environment in CUHK. In this term, firstly we will hold the International Student Orientation Camp (ISO). Then, we will have more events like boat party and open semester dinner.

What motivated you to become an ExCo member of ISA in the first place?

Jessie: I am an international student who joined ISO last year, and after camp I decided to join ISA. I feel ISA is one of few organizations which are trying the best to create a multicultural and international environment in CUHK. The ISA events have provided chances for communications for people from different origins. And such opportunity for conversation is what I valued the most. Nowadays, the world becomes harder to accept others’ idea. We have lost so many chances to realize everyone has their different reasons, backgrounds, and beliefs that influence their decisions, for example in politics. The worst thing ever is that people stop communicating with each other, and lost their interests to understand each other. And as non-local students in an unfamiliar place, to be friends with the people who share the same background and language is always much easier, and it can help you to adapt your college life quickly. We have already decided to come to such multicultural university, why should we limit our experiences? To communicate with different people gives me a chance to understand different viewpoints.

From what I have learned, the exco members of ISA come from different ethnic backgrounds, so how is the communication within the committee? Has the cultural difference ever bring any challenges to your cooperation?

Jessie: Well, we have committee members who come from all over the world — Indonesia, Japan, Mainland China and Taiwan.
Anju: And our medium of communication is, as you would have guessed, English.

Jessie: Yet, as half of our committee members come from Indonesia, sometimes our group chat and meeting switched from English to Indonesian. My committee members sometimes taught me Indonesian after meetings. And one funny thing had happened due to the different English accents of our members. Back in January when we practiced the oath for our inauguration ceremony, our president Jovan read first, then we followed. And it turned out that our entire cabinet had read the oath with Indonesian accents; some of us did it on purpose while some were not aware of it. It was really funny.

Anju: In my opinion, I don’t believe cultural difference has ever brought any problems. And I feel the culture differences bring more benefits instead of challenges because we can always resolve our differences through discussion. We simply give honest opinions to each others’ proposals, and try to come up with a solution that pleases everyone.

Instead of bringing problems, our cultural difference is helpful to our decision-making, especially when it comes to planning events. We won’t be limited by culture, the fixed pattern and tasks in camp (note: a lot of local societies are often criticized for blindly following traditions or copying the ways of work of their previous cabinets) and thus can bring a fresh and a better experience to all participants and helpers.

What is the difference between the role of ISA and student associations of different country of residences?

Anju: The members of country associations (i.e.: KSA, TSA, MUA, etc.) are usually exclusive to those belonging to the respective countries, whereas the members of ISA are inclusive of all international students (those who belong to country associations, as well as those who do not). In this sense, the role of ISA differs in that it is our job includes creating a space for students of diverse cultural backgrounds to meet and come together. We also act as the society for those whose countries are not represented by an association, which gives us the greater sense of responsibility to provide our members with a home-like sensation.

Jessie: Moreover, ISA has good relationships with other country student associations and can sometimes cooperate with each other. For example, activities held by ISA and other country associations never overlap. We will try to avoid scheduling the activity on days of other country student associations’ activities as our target groups are pretty similar.

Since the general members of ISA all come from different parts of the world, how do you engage students of different backgrounds?

Jessie: Most of our activities, like boat party and pizza night, target to promote communication amongst our members who come from all around the world and participants who join our activities will have to interact with other a lot!

Anju: We hadn’t had any strategy in particular. Though if I had to say something, it might be reverting to a “common ground.” Though it is important to promote and learn about various cultures, the university already does enough to accomplish this. Hence, to bring students of different backgrounds together, we try to organize events that everyone can enjoy, such as pizza nights, dai pai tong, sporting events, etc.

Can you share some of the most unforgettable experiences you have had in ISA?

Anju: Erm, one of my most unforgettable experience would be … having google pestering you about suspicious log-ins constantly (especially during semester breaks!) when it is just ExCo members logging into the single ISA account from our own respective homes in different countries.

Since you have inaugurated for half a year already, how do you feel? What is your plan (both society and personal (if any)) for the coming half a year?

Anju: It is hard to believe that half a year has already gone by; and it makes me sad to think that I only have another half a year left with my current committee members, also my friends. As a society, we would like to bring as much fun and entertainment to our existing members as well as our new incoming members while we are still able to do so!

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