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Representing the SNU International Student Community: SISA

  • June 24, 2016
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SISA Vice President Tsvetomira Vekova (Left) and President Irfan Haider (Right) discuss the problems that international students face in SNU.
SISA Vice President Tsvetomira Vekova (Left) and President Irfan Haider (Right) discuss the problems that international students face in SNU.

Belying its uninspiring, utilitarian design, Building 67 serves as a vital epicenter for cultural activities of SNU students. Home to numerous student clubs and organizations, the building also serves as a refuge for international students. Beyond the raucous music and lively laughter, a small corner office hosts the members of SNU International Students Association (SISA). Students come together every week to discuss on the matters that the university’s international student community faces and come up with solutions to create a learning environment that is open to students from all backgrounds.

SISA, under the purview of SNU’s Student Affairs Division, is the university’s official international student organization. Perhaps best known for its biannual International Food Festival held every festival period, SISA is an organization that targets to raise awareness of the cultural diversity of SNU and to promote the welfare of the university’s international students. Although the organization itself is largely known to the SNU community for its festival activities, its efforts reach far beyond the premises of the campus to work with the community.

“We work all year to hold events to help international students integrate into the SNU community,” explains SISA President Irfan HAIDER (College of Business Administration ‘11), “We try to focus on community service and volunteering activities to actively participate as members of SNU.”

SISA donated 10% of its proceeds from the International Food Festival to the Ecuador earthquake victims
SISA donated 10% of its proceeds from the International Food Festival to the Ecuador earthquake victims

Recently, SISA has been active in organizing events to help the local community, while at the same time, raising awareness on social issues. After every semester during vacation, SISA members conduct volunteer programs to help the local community. For example, last January, international students taught English at a multicultural family support center. Regarding social issues, when news of the Ecuador earthquake struck, SISA donated 10% of its proceeds from the International Food Festival to the disaster relief efforts and also organized a candlelight vigil in remembrance of the victims.

Despite the numerous efforts and activities that SISA is involved in, the organization wants to reach out further to the international community of SNU and address the issues that they face.

Haider explained how the organization has changed over the years, and what they are currently aiming to do. “SISA was founded in 2007 and it was completely different back then, there was very little administrative support for foreign students. The SISA office started out as a place for international students to come and just hang out. Since then, SISA has become more involved in representing international students and we actively try to solve the problems of the international community. Through our Facebook page, students are able to directly communicate their individual problems from academics to accommodation, and we do our best to provide support.”

Vice President Tsvetomira VEKOVA (Dept. of Korean Language and Literature ‘14) explained further on SISA’s future goals, “We would like to not only provide individual help for students to adjust to life in SNU but also provide a systemic solution to the issues that international students face in areas such as academics and discrimination.”

Haider and Vekova claimed that certain issues that seem trivial to Korean students can be huge obstacles for international students. Haider stated, “One of the big issues that international students face is that most administrative information is in Korean. We had a problem where a student did not know his graduation requirements and almost didn’t graduate because the information was simply not available in English.”

SISA is aiming to tackle such issues and has already made significant progress in addressing the problems that international students face. According to SISA, there was misleading information on the admissions brochure for the Global Talent Admissions. The brochure outlined that proficiency in Korean was not required to graduate from SNU, which to international students seemed to be far removed from reality. SISA presented the issue to the administration and corrections were made. Through its annual meetings with the SNU administration, SISA is able to effectively communicate the problems that the community it represents faces. Haider explained that during the last meeting, SISA expressed concerns of a requisite class only provided in Korean. The administration provided a solution for the specific course in question, but there are concerns that there should be a clearer university-wide policy on the accessibility of courses to international students.

Haider hopes to grow the organization further and give the international students a bigger voice. “Despite the significant size of the international community in SNU, its complaints and struggles are often overlooked. We plan to serve as an intermediary between the school and international students.” With future plans to work closely with the SNU Student Council, SISA hopes to help raise the voices of the SNU international student community.

Visit SISA Facebook page or official website.

Written by Yun Hwan Chae, SNU English Editor,
Reviewed by Professor Travis Smith, Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations,

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