By Ishaba Haque – Dhaka, Bangladesh
BA in Organizational Sciences, GWU, May 2016
For as long as I can remember, extracurricular activities have always been a huge part of my life. Starting with my time at The Tumble Tots all the way to today at GWU, being involved in more than just academics was always at the top of my list. I know what you’re thinking, “girl, your priorities are all wrong.” Frankly, I beg to differ. Academics are important, there’s no denying that the knowledge you gain from your Philosophy 101 class is contributing to your overall understanding about the fundamental nature of reality, and when you’re finally able to apply that to the real world, you can’t help but be glad you reluctantly signed up for that intro class you didn’t think you cared about. But from a young age, it’s always been about what I’m going to do after school. In high school, I was involved in everything I could possibly be involved in. I joined a “Green Art” club my sophomore year where all we did was make art out of leaves, but I have to say, I didn’t know leaves were capable of doing so many things.
Aside from the Green Art club that I joined out of sheer curiosity, I also joined clubs that actually meant something to me. All four years of high school, I was involved in the Global Issues Network or GIN for short. GIN is a global network of international students who advocate for and support many social, economic, and environmental causes around the world. Every year, GIN students from all around the globe meet in two or three countries for the annual GIN conference, during which they share ideas, present issues and discuss solutions to problems in their respective countries and most importantly, listen to inspirational people like Pippa Biddle and Chris Bashinelli speak (fun fact: I’m Facebook friends with Bashinelli!) about their incredible work to improve the world we live in. IB Math was great but four years later I find myself more exposed to social issues than algebra. Extracurriculars, whatever they may be, teach us real world skills that we can apply on a day to day basis. Being a member of GIN taught me to be curious about social issues, how to write for service purposes and gave me the confidence to speak in public.
When I started college, it was important for me to get involved with things that I truly cared about. As an international student, I’m removed from my comfort zone and placed into an unfamiliar, unknown environment. The first thing that I wanted to do was acclimate myself as fast as possible so I didn’t feel like an outsider for too long. I found that once you start doing something you love, you’ll want to do more of it. Joining the International Students Community (ISC), allowed me to not only surround myself with more students who were in the same situation as me, but also allowed me to drop the façade I had been holding up since arriving in the U.S. International students often feel like they have to be comfortable with everything in order to feel included, or at least, I did. Pretending to be a full functioning adult in a world where everything was so confusing was exhausting. Being a part of the ISC meant that I could express my concerns and share my commonalities with more people around me.
After I joined the ISC, I found myself getting involved with every aspect of it. Whether that meant planning events or doing logistical work, I was always down to do whatever was needed. That eventually led to me applying for the position of Director of International Students for the GW Student Association. I had an itch to help international students at GWU for a few reasons. First, I wanted others to have the same experience I had with being an international student: a good one. Being an international student shouldn’t be scary or intimidating, rather it should be unique, fun and different. Second, I wanted to make GWU more friendly for international students. GWU is one of the most diverse campuses I’ve seen – being in downtown DC really helps with that. But every institution can continuously improve the resources they make available for international students, so I decided I wanted to take on that task.
Thus far, as Director of the International Students for the SA and Director of the ISC (the two go hand in hand), I have increased programming for international students, allowing international students to meet other international students and attend fun events. I have also made already existing GW websites more international student friendly by including information with links to resources, important legal information, and upcoming events. Along with my Associate Director, Laura Gomez, our biggest task for the semester is creating a better, more efficient system of connecting international students with international alumni in an effort to make the job search for international students more convenient and less tedious.
I have to admit, having the phrase Director of International Students on my resume does look pretty bad-ass, but more importantly, it has given me skills and taught me things that sitting in a classroom never could. Representing 3,000+ students has taught me to be more responsible. I’ve learned to be more patient, how to talk to administrators, how to come up with ideas and then actually execute them and best of all, how to lead a large group of students to make a difference.
There is still a lot to do to make the GW international student experience ideal, but in my opinion it will always be a work in progress. International students are big contributors to not only the US economy, but also the success and development of university institutions all over the country. We are a valuable part of the higher education world and being able to contribute to even a little bit of it is a very gratifying task. Not to mention all the skills I’ve learned along the way and the traits I’ve gained through this whole process. Carrying such a big weight on my shoulders has been stressful but incredibly rewarding. I’m so unbelievably grateful to everyone who thought I was capable enough to take on this monstrous job. Taking a class has never made me feel this way, these emotions are important to experience and for me, they come from doing important, fulfilling tasks.
If there’s one piece of advice I can give all of you who are reading this, it’s to do more of what makes you happy.