When 26-year-old electrical engineering graduate student Arunav Bora arrived to Cal State Fullerton earlier this year from Assam, India, he wanted to get out of his comfort zone during his time at the university.
He soon found the opposite was true of much of the rest of the engineering department, which was comprised mainly of international students, many of whom were afraid to venture out and learn about different communities.
“My first thought coming here was that I would talk to everyone,” said Bora. “I didn’t just come for an education but also to have an experience.”
Eight percent of CSUF students are international students, according to the college’s demographic data and they often face language barriers, isolation and culture shock, Bora said.
He’s counteracted this by getting heavily involved on campus as an orientation student leader, information desk student assistant at the library, an ASI student representative for faculty development center board and vice president of the International Student Association (ISA).
In ISA, students have a common goal to integrate in the CSUF community and explore what southern California has to offer. This semester the group has hiked in the Hollywood hills, gone to Disneyland and Universal’s Horror Nights, carved pumpkins together and held a beach bonfire.
Most recently, ISA members took part in their League of Kitchens event where they competed in teams in a cook-off as they made five international dishes in the Gastronome and then shared their meals.
ISA is one of the oldest CSUF organizations and in the past there hasn’t been much participation. This semester they reached a record for the club with 95 active members, said club president Ameya Agavekar.
“They feel more comfortable with each other and I think it’s a great place to find friends with similar situations,” Agavekar said.
He works on-campus at the Office of Research and Sponsor Projects, like many international students because that’s what their college visa allows. Finding work can be tough because many postings require references that they might not have.
Agavekar is also currently completing an internship with Lionsgate Pictures in Santa Monica after being exposed to the tough competition of getting hired at film companies. He is hoping to soon be promoted to full-time in addition to taking his information systems and decision sciences capstone class online.
Eighteen-year-old entrepreneurship major Patricia Diaz came to CSUF in 2015 from the Phillipines and was struck with the difficult transition of living in a place where she didn’t know anyone all while struggling with English as her second language.
“Whenever I trip on my words or whenever I stutter, I feel as though I’m inferior,” Diaz said. “When I joined this club, I met new people and improved my English along the way.”
Diaz has made plans with her family to apply for citizenship after graduation and manage her own alteration shop and eventually expand it.
Many aspire to live and work in the United States after graduation, even with the added stresses of extra prerequisite classes, not being able to work off-campus and needing to secure a job within 90 days of graduating to avoid deportation.
“I would say that every international student has a dream of staying here, most of them,” Bora said. “My dream is something else.”
Assam, Bora’s home in India, shares a close border with China so he has always felt like a minority dealing with divisiveness in his own country. He plans on returning there with his education and new social experiences after he graduates.
“I want to give something back to my country and take the good things from here,” Bora said.