International organizations on campus help students help find belonging on campus

Isabella Gonzalez-Lawson, Life & Arts General Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the November 23 flipbook.

Suitcase in hand and thousands of miles away from her home in Beijing, Yuying Ma seemed ready to start a new life at UT. But after the glamour of moving across the globe subsided, homesickness crept in. Ma turned to the Chinese Student Scholar Association for help. 

“A good way to transition from life in China to the U.S. is to (meet) friends who also come from China so we can figure it out together,” advertising senior Ma said. “Getting to know more students who have the same background as you (makes) you feel that you’re not alone.”

Making up only 10.1% of the student population, many international students struggle to feel at home so far away from their families. By providing a sense of community, organizations like CSSA, Planet Longhorn and Partnership to Advance Language Study seek to ease international students’ transitions to UT. 

Planet Longhorn, a club at UT that serves international students from a variety of cultural backgrounds, hosts a variety of social events throughout the year. The largest international student-affiliated club at UT, Planet Longhorn contains more than 400 members from over 72 countries. 

Edson Santos, Planet Longhorn president and economics and civil engineering senior, credits the organization with creating long-lasting friendships.

“It’s about making sure (international students) have connections by meeting new students that are from Austin or other countries,” Santos said. “It facilitates them in bonding and finding a smaller place in this big university. That’s the beauty of (Planet Longhorn), it makes you turn from a singular person to a whole community.”

UT also houses organizations to help international students beyond their social lives. Organizations like PALS, dedicate a portion of the club to help international students improve their conversational English skills.

Monica Arboleda, a second year member of UT’s ESL program from Medellín, Colombia, said she gains more from PALS than just English speaking lessons. 

“(PALS) allows us to make connections, to make new friends from all the world and also expands our point of view about things we never knew,” Arboleda said.

Sydney May, leader of PALS’ English speaking group and fifth year linguistics student, said organizations on campus like PALS benefit everyone, not just  international students. 

“It’s important for domestic students that we have these organizations too,” May said. “Because especially at a school like UT that’s known worldwide, we’re obviously going to have a lot of international students, and I think domestic students can learn a lot from them.”

As for Santos, he said he understands that all students face the challenge of finding a sense of belonging, not just international students. 

“Even if you’re a resident, if you haven’t found your place or your community in university you’ll feel alone. I could always rely on (Planet Longhorn) because I knew other people would have the same struggles that I was having,” Santos said. “It’s about finding the small community.”