Interview: CUSP: Abigail Soryal, Marta Gramatyca; ISA: Soumyadeep Das

Written by Abigail Soryal

The International Student Association (ISA) was founded in 2008 and has been developing ever since. As the international population in CUHK has grown, so has the relevance of the ISA and what it provides to the university. We arranged an interview with Soumyadeep Das, the 2021-2022 President of ISA to introduce the association to you: 

ISA aims to provide a safe space to every student here whether they are a local or international student, to raise their awareness about what goes on around the world and a sense of belonging together with different cultures. We want to create a sense of harmony.

Even though it has been more difficult during the pandemic, we have still been able to meet quite a few of our members. We are fortunate to have 6 of our ExCo in Hong Kong from the get-go. For the last ExCo only three of the members were in Hong Kong and three of them, including the president, were abroad. It was a bit sad because they clearly wanted to do more, but were limited by the pandemic. We still have to work with COVID regulations so we plan to bring a mix of different activities together. Some students may be online while some of them may attend classes be face to face. We just have to adjust to the times. It’s something we can’t do much about but we are going to try our best to provide an engaging environment for all the international students, especially during these tough times.

Often international students look for comfort in the middle of a completely new place. As much as international students want to know more about local culture, and as much as we want to bring that to international students, many people don’t immediately feel like they belong here and so ISA acts as a transition point for internationals as they get into local culture.

In the end, especially for a lot of international students, we want to know more about the world rather than sticking to our own comfort zones all the time. We want to experience a new environment for ourselves. ISA also facilitates this, and a lot of it has to do with sharing your own culture. ISA is very willing to provide various avenues for cultural sharing–amongst internationals and also between internationals and locals. 

We are very happy to have locals involved. A lot of the local students who come to ISA want to know more about international students in general, why they come to Hong Kong and their perspective. It’s all about perspective. We want more local students to join in and get to know what we are all about but also to bring their own culture, the local culture. 

Cultural sharing from locals to internationals is also very valuable because there’s some kind of asymmetric information; I stayed in HK for 7 years as a kid but I was in an international school so I didn’t know much about local Hong Kong culture. Personally, I got to know a lot more about Hong Kong staying in CU than in primary school. For example, one of our ExCo is a local medicine student and he told me all kinds of things I didn’t know about CUHK–like the stereotypes of each college etc. These kinds of things are really hard to find out as an international student, but once you find out from a local it’s very interesting. In fact, most college culture is local. Often international students are very distanced from that culture. I really want to bring it closer because it is so interesting. 

At ISA we really value mutual respect as we deal with communication barriers and cultural gaps. We come from diverse places and we celebrate our differences. We invite you to come and get to know us. Join us to celebrate our differences!


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