On Friday, Feb. 24, International Student and Scholar Affairs (ISSA) will be hosting its fifth visit to the South Bend Center for the Homeless, one way that international students have the opportunity to become more involved in life outside of campus.
ISSA, part of Notre Dame International, helps Notre Dame’s 1,320 international students feel at home in the United States by providing support services as well as hosting educational and cultural events. Through its involvement with the Center for the Homeless, international students expand their experience in the South Bend community.
“When we volunteer, it’s not just about giving back,” says sophomore Janne Fuss, an international student from Stuttgart, Germany. “For us, it’s about the cultural exchange, too.”
Fuss visited the Center for the Homeless last fall and, in addition to the service work, valued the opportunity to connect with the outside community.
“A lot of people from South Bend have never met someone from Germany or China, or wherever we are from,” says Fuss. “The work we do is just as meaningful as the conversations we are able to have.”
Gbemisola Okunzua, a junior from Lagos, Nigeria, also volunteered at the Center for the Homeless through ISSA last summer.
“It was a really eye-opening experience,” says Okunzua. Before that, “the deepest level of interaction I had with South Bend was through its restaurants, so it was nice to see a more intimate part of South Bend.”
In many foreign countries, the concept of community service is not customary. As a result, ISSA’s visits to the Center for the Homeless are many international students’ first experience with volunteering.
“In our communities, there’s not the same level of imbalance, so you don’t really see the need for [volunteering],” says Fuss. “Here at Notre Dame, we’re surrounded by opportunities and potential to get to help people and see how they live. It’s very eye-opening.”
ISSA provides several opportunities for international students to interact further with the community. Last November, ISSA held the annual International Taste of South Bend, a large international food festival on campus.
With 15 international restaurants representing seven different countries, over 1,100 Notre Dame students and members of the South Bend community piled into the Stepan Center for the free event.
“We looked at local restaurants and thought of it as helping promote local businesses,” says Okunzua. “You want to help South Bend develop economically, too. It meant a lot, especially to those small, family-run restaurants.”
Heather Christensen, ISSA program coordinator, led the planning of the hugely successful cultural showcase. Together with 30 Notre Dame International student leaders, Christensen plans and executes several opportunities for international students to not only immerse in the American culture, but also showcase their own backgrounds and traditions.
“It’s about engaging—getting international students to talk to each other, but also getting Americans interested in learning about the cultures from the different students here on campus,” says Christensen.
Christensen helps coordinate several other events, such as the monthly “World on Tap” at Rohr’s, a specialty coffee hour called the Global Café, and field trips to places like Amish Country in Shipshewana and, coming up over spring break, a ‘Global Neighborhood Tour’ of Chicago.
ISSA is a valuable support system for many international students. From sponsored events to peer mentorship and immigration services, the ISSA staff encourages students to make the most out of their time at Notre Dame. With Notre Dame’s commitment to serve those in need, it’s no surprise that ISSA encourages volunteer efforts among its international students as well.
“It’s a community within a community—a place where our differences are embraced,” says Okunzua. “It makes you feel like you’re not so different and that people care about you.”
ISSA will be volunteering at the Food Bank of Northern Indiana on Friday, March 13, from 1:30 to 4pm. Anyone is welcome to participate. If you are interested in attending, sign up at the ISSA office in 105 Main Building.