About ISSA

International Student Services & Activities, also known as ISSA, supports and advises the international student community at the University of Notre Dame. ISSA staff members are deeply committed to fostering a campus environment that welcomes the international student community and promotes cross-cultural interaction and understanding.

From My American Life to Home

by Hyewon Yun, South Korea

I am from Seoul, the capital city of South Korea, a fast-paced metropolitan city of over 10-million people. Every bit of your daily routine is a competition when you live with so many people in such limited space: shoving and pushing is a must to take a subway or a bus during rush hours. Throwing yourself into the closing doors of an already moving car is optional.  If you drive, you need to change lanes constantly to make any progress in the heavy traffic that runs at the average speed of 8.6 miles an hour. You have to run to grab a lunch table because other office workers with growling stomachs are pouring out of building after building. You have to be even faster to squeeze a minute and stand in line to secure a cup of Starbucks coffee before going back to the office. It is unnecessary to discuss how crazy it is to get an admission to the country’s prestigious schools, land a good job, buy a house in a good neighborhood, et cetera, et cetera.

Now imagine how I felt when I first arrived in South Bend, Indiana, USA. Everything was very low.  And it looked empty. This was what struck me first: few tall buildings, few glaring neon signs, few hip restaurants or coffeehouses, and even fewer people on the street – the sky and the land, and almost nothing in between. I was dumbfounded, muttering to myself, “Oh my god. Now am I going to spend two years here? Can I…?” My husband kept apologizing for dragging me into such a remote place. 730 days in the States were waiting for me like a long, desolate road under the wide sky.

At first, I thought the wide open sky of South Bend was like an IMAX screen, and then, I was amazed by the colorful and diverse shows on nature’s screen: the morning breaking with golden strands of sunshine, the endless expanse of true blue, the crimson and purple feathers of clouds during sunset, the darkening veil of the night cooled by balmy breezes, the dazzling gleams of the frozen sky after a snowfall… The shows were beyond my wildest imagination, and the sky’s repertoire seemed limitless.  Under the sky, busy and crowded was the land. It was inhabited by a variety of wildlife such as wild geese, ducks, herons, swans, rabbits, chipmunks, cardinals, robins, fireflies, deer and many more creatures. Shy spring buds of tall trees became a commanding thick green and then turned into billowing huge balls of yellow, brown or red before finally being blanketed with quiet snow. All these sights were inexplicably relaxing and soothing, which touched my soul. While driving along the streets lined by the old trees with mellow autumn colors, I often realized that tears were rolling down my face.

However, it was only a prelude to the American West. During my husband’s summer break, we travelled 13,000 miles, visiting most of the national parks in the West.  I saw endless mountain ridges, towering peaks, otherworldly shaped rocks, scorching dry deserts, dizzily deep canyons, bottomless cliffs, unbelievably clear lakes, and gigantic falls.  They were high, vast and deep.  They were barren and silent.  They were also embracing and comforting.  How small and powerless humans are!  How meaningless human anxiety, insecurity and greed are!  I took mental photos of these moments so that I would remind myself of this message whenever I am clouded by doubt, vanity or restlessness.

I had been tired of the unforgiving pace of the urban life even before I came to the States. I had often said that I wanted to live closer to nature. But I did not visualize what it would be like. Now I understand and believe in Mother Nature’s healing power: it is the chicken soup for the soul, meditation for the spirit, and a remedy for the body. That was the moment my husband and I started to discuss where and how we would live once we get back to Korea. We used to say that we would leave Seoul and lead a quieter life someday, but where, when and how are now more specific.

People were also what I found between the sky and the land in America. I’ve met many amazing people in this town, which had looked so empty at first sight. My teachers at ISSA’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program for international spouses, Ann, Beverly, and Mary, were the ones who happily became the safety net for me and my fellow students, whenever we get confused about who we are and what we are doing or suffer from identity conflict, loneliness and isolation away from home. My volunteer tutor, Teresa, invited my husband and me to her family’s Easter dinner, saying that her family often has guests for holidays, and that she learned it from her parents who had always done the same. She was the one who taught me that the spirit of American holidays is sharing, not just shopping, eating or having fun.

I, an atheist, was unsure when I was first invited to the Korean ladies’ Bible study group. But the group turned out to be very inclusive and welcomed those who have different religions or none.  They prayed for each other, shared homemade Korean delicacies, and helped those in trouble. The leader of the group arranges weekly meetings, preparing only the best available food and giving a ride to anyone who has no transportation. One lady in the group plants tomatoes, sesame, cucumbers and many other vegetables in her micro-backyard; composts and nurtures them during summer; and happily shares the harvest with everyone else in autumn.  Another group member put up a family returning to Korea for a week when the family’s apartment contract expired. These experiences showed me that this world does not have only takers, but givers.

One of the highlights in my American life is cooking. I never cooked back home, but cooking is the bread-and-butter issue of survival here, because, first, it is a mission impossible to find a good restaurant in this town that caters to Korean tastes; and second, groceries are inexpensive here, but restaurant services aren’t. This was by far the most imminent and toughest domestic task for me, but it turned out to be the most rewarding achievement in my whole life. I found that nothing gives me more joy than looking at happy smiles spread on the faces of the people I love after they take a first bite of my food, and that no other achievement I have ever made has brought more bliss to others.  The plates of my food were often returned with much more food, and the love and care I showed to others were returned with much more love and care. The virtuous cycle of sharing was endless.

I had never been interested in serving people in such a way in Korea, and I could not afford to when I was so preoccupied with the relentless daily rat race there. But I realize now that it can make a bigger difference than any diploma, well-paying job, or higher corporate position can. After all, great ideas or endeavors can better reach out to people only when they are accompanied by love and compassion.

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” – Corinthians 13:2

Adapting to Campus

by Thomas La, USA

Hi! My name is Thomas La and I am from Houston, TX.  I am currently a senior Psychology and pre-professional major and I hope to go to dental school after ND.

My time at Notre Dame has been great so far.  Although I am an American citizen, my parents came to the USA from Vietnam so I can identify a bit with international students.  Coming to ND, I will admit I had a preconceived notion of what I thought it was going to be like, specifically with regard to diversity and culture on campus.  I had heard that ND was a homogenous school that catered mostly to a specific crowd of students, namely wealthy, white Catholics.  However, upon arriving at ND for frosh-o and my first week of college, my expectations were blown away.  Everyone here is so welcoming and kind, it is not hard to find your place.  There is something for everyone, whether you are Asian, White, Catholic, Muslim, man, woman, etc.  True, you may have to dig a little deeper, but I promise you there is something here for you.  Whether it is a cultural club, a team sport, or a hobby, there are people here that have the same interests as you.

New international students – I realize that adapting can be tough.  I urge you to embrace your new Notre Dame family and talk to everyone around you.  ND has such a great support network.   I wish you the best in the upcoming years!

Q & A with Grace Meikle, ISSA International Ambassador

What would you like international students to know about you?

I enjoy meeting new people and I am especially interested in meeting new international students in order to find things we have in common. It’s the best way to learn!

What do you like best about attending the University? What do you like least?

I like being able to control my time, and I like being around so many people my age, the vast majority are smart, interesting and friendly. I also can tell I am learning so much everyday from my classes and the people I meet. I can really feel myself becoming a more dynamic person on an ongoing basis.

I dislike the lack of privacy at University. I love having a roommate but I make a point to seek out spaces on campus where I can really be alone if I need it. It can also be difficult at times to be so far away from my family-it’s not that I necessarily miss home, but if I’m having a problem it’s often inconvenient to call them because of the time difference.

What challenges did you face during your first year at ND?

I had trouble with the fact that I didn’t quite know where I was. My family had just moved to Taiwan and I had never even seen my house. Before that I lived in Japan for all of high school, so that was where my friends were and the “home” I missed, but I couldn’t really say I was from there either, since I also grew up in the U.S. For a long time I felt at a loss because I am American but missing many of the basic experiences and interests most other American ND students have-like a love of football, or a strong political and religious background.

What advice would you like to give new students to help them succeed at the University?

Meet as many new people and join as many friend groups as possible. This is easiest in the first couple of weeks of school but you should really continue doing this all year. Not only do friends come in handy for emotional support, but they are my best resource when I need help with one of my classes.

Do you have any advice to help students adjust to life in the United States and at ND?

American people, especially ND students, are very  friendly. If you want your friends to appreciate you and your experiences, don’t be afraid to proactively share them. Consider organizing a culturally related dorm event, you’d be amazed by the response!

It’s International Education Week – November 14 – 18, 2011

Each year, International Student Services & Activities (ISSA), in conjunction with other campus departments and organizations, hosts International Education Week (IEW) at the University of Notre Dame. IEW is a national event that is coordinated by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education to celebrate and promote global exchange between the United States and other countries. This year, IEW will take place Monday, November 14 through Friday, November 18.

A complete schedule of events is listed below:
  • On Monday, November 14, ISSA and The Career Center will host an International Student Etiquette Dinner from 6:00 – 7:30 pm in the Oak Room of South Dining Hall. Attendees will learn about formal meal etiquette as well as how meal etiquette varies throughout the world. This event is now full and registration is closed.
  •  On Wednesday, November 16 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., ISSA will host the second annual International Taste of South Bend in the LaFortune Student Center Ballroom. Attendees may sample a variety of international cuisines provided by local ethnic restaurants. Free and open to the public.
  • The Department of Film, Television, and Theatre and the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center will host Provenance, the latest play by University of Notre Dame Moreau Fellow Anne García-Romero, from November 16 through 20. For ticket information, visit http://performingarts.nd.edu. Open to the public.
  •  On Thursday, November 17, the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre will host Latina Theatre Today: New Voices, a one-day conference celebrating contemporary Latina theatre. The conference will begin at 1 p.m. in McKenna Hall Room 210. Free and open to the public.
  • The Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures will host Community Voices: An Evening of Brazilian Culture and Language on Thursday, November 17 at 5:15 p.m. in 329 DeBartolo Hall. Dinner will be provided. Students may sign up to participate by emailing cslc@nd.edu by November 16. Free.
  • On Thursday, November 17, the Canadian Association of Notre Dame Youths (CANDY) will host a Canadian Ball Hockey Tournament from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m. in the Rolfs Floor Hockey Arena. Cost: $2 for individuals or $5 per team (up to 6 players). Students may sign up to participate by emailing Leo at lprzybyl@nd.edu.
  • On Thursday, November 17 at 6:30 p.m., Artist Nandita Raman will speak on her award-winning black and white photographs of old Indian cinema halls in the Snite Museum of Art Mestrovic Studio Gallery. Free and open to the public.
  • The DeBartolo Performing Arts Center will present the acclaimed Thai film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives on Thursday, November 17 at 8 p.m. For ticket information, visit http://performingarts.nd.edu. Open to the public.
  • On Friday, November 18, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center will host an encore broadcast of The Kitchen, a live theatrical performance from London, at 7:30 p.m. For ticket information, visit http://performingarts.nd.edu. Open to the public.
  • Monday through Friday, ISSA will sponsor a sale of goods and handicrafts from the fair trade retailer Ten Thousand Villages, which provides vital, fair income to Third World people by marketing their handicrafts and telling their stories in North America. Ten Thousand Villages will sell products in the Hesburgh Library Atrium from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. Open to the public.
  • ISSA and Notre Dame International will host a supply drive for the American Red Cross, St. Joseph County Chapter’s Refugee Resettlement Program, which became an authorized refugee resettlement agency in 2010. The Refugee Resettlement Program is in need of toys for children ages one through 12, school supplies, and unopened toiletries. Donation collection boxes will be available Nov. 14 – 18 in Notre Dame International, located in 105 Main Building, and at the International Taste of South Bend on Nov. 16. Open to the public.
For more information and a complete list of International Education Week events, please visit: https://issa.nd.edu/news-and-events/international-education-week/.
IEW is presented by International Student Services & Activities (ISSA). IEW co-sponsors are the Canadian Association of Notre Dame Youths (CANDY), The Career Center, Center for the Study of Languages & Cultures (CSLC), DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, Department of Film, Television and Theatre, Hesburgh Library, Multicultural Student Programs & Services (MSPS), Notre Dame International, Snite Museum of Art, and Ten Thousand Villages.
If you have any questions, please email issa@nd.edu.

My Kitchen, My Mom and Me

By Hyewon Yun, Korea

I finally bought it: a 15$ zester/grater. This is not a must-have kitchen utensil, but absolutely the most expensive item in my kitchen. Considering I spent one year deciding to buy a $5 hand mixer, this should be an unthinkable extravagance. What is happening to me? The strange thing is that I have never thought about canceling the order or returning this since I first saw it on the Internet. Hmmmm…

My mother is the wife of a man who became the head of a big family at the age of 30 when his father died. She had to take care of her aging mother-in-law, her own three kids and six of her much younger brothers-in-law and sister-in-law who were then students in college, high school and elementary school. Her days started in the kitchen preparing breakfast for 12 people and packing school lunches for her husband’s brothers and sister. My mother used to find the lunch box of the youngest brother-in-law tossed into the trash can after he went to school. It was his childish way of protesting when he didn’t like the food in the box. He was too young to understand that food and other resources were in short supply with many mouths to feed in the family and his eldest brother’s business was not always booming. Her cooking was rejected and wasted that easily.

For me as a young girl, it looked pointless to be a wife and mother when it was such a thankless job. I couldn’t believe that anyone would like to become one in the first place: why would she waste her whole life cooking, cleaning and supporting someone else when she could work for herself and for a greater purpose, for example, a career. Naturally, I stayed away from the kitchen as much as possible and refused to help my mother. I worked hard at school believing that it was the only way for a girl to move on to the outside world and thrive in a country heavily influenced by traditional gender stereotypes back then. And I made it.

I went to college and become a member of Korea’s first generation who was taught feminism at college and awakened to the self-awareness that we can achieve something as a woman rather than just a housewife. As ambitious and assertive young women, our goal was never to allow our lives to become like our mothers’-what a passive and negative goal it was! We wanted not to do something rather than to do something. However, we wanted to break the vicious circle: women got married at a young age because the social norm forced them to do so and showed no other option, and they got hard training under their mothers-in-law to be proper workhorses for their husbands’ families. Thus they became the same relentless mothers-in-law for their sons’ wives.  After graduation, I got a job, worked hard to build my career and never cooked.  I was also successful in landing a husband who never cared whether I was a good cook or not.

Cooking became a daily routine, however, when my husband and I came to America. My husband was studying as a graduate student while I stayed at home and supported him. I had to cook three meals a day: both of us loved Korean food and simply our household budget was not enough to eat out all the time. Now I got very surprised at how fast the next meal came back after just finishing one meal. My husband sometimes invited his classmates or our neighbors who had helped us get settled in town. I had to become the sweet hostess who cooked and served authentic Korean food. Cooking, baking, dish-washing, cleaning and grocery shopping were endless. I didn’t even have time to hate the job because it was such a mind-emptying swim-or-drown challenge. It was an excruciating boot camp for homemaking.

I struggled for almost one year. While juggling and bumbling around in the kitchen, I slowly got used to fixing some food and started to put decent or even good food on the table. Sometimes, I had the luxury of spending some more time for presentation after already finishing the cooking process. I also found it greatly relaxing to bake cakes while listening to my favorite music, focusing on nothing but sifting, whipping or beating, and forgetting homesickness, boredom or mundane concerns as my cakes’ sweet aroma spread from the oven throughout the house. The kitchen became my meditation room, sanctuary and resting place.

Most of all, cooking and baking was sharing. It was a great way to spend happy times with good people: my husband, friends and neighbors. I suddenly realized that for the first time in my whole life, I was putting in quality time and energy and truly sharing something with others. By offering my own food, the product of my blood, sweat and tears-as I often got cuts, sweaty working with the hot oven and tearful over cooking mishaps-, I was reaching out to someone else and turning the time spent together into a fond memory. This is also what my mother has done for her whole adult life: readily sharing whatever she had with the people around her and happily working for her loving family, not sacrificing or wasting her life. I never had once considered that my life was similar to my mother’s. We are the women who have lived different lives in different worlds and different times. But when I cook and bake I transcend such differences and feel closer to her than ever. What an irony that only when we are an ocean apart I finally feel more strongly than ever that I am my mother’s daughter.

I once brought up my new love for cooking and baking while I was talking with her over the phone. She got very excited and cried, “Yes! Cooking is fun.” It was a strange experience because I had never thought that my mother enjoyed cooking. However, I had not known her very well, after all, during all those years. As this passion for cooking has been inside me all the time waiting to be found, she might have been waiting to be found, too, by her own daughter.

Accepting Differences

By Ava Lee, South Korea

Having grown up in large cities my entire life, I always thought I would end up going to college in a big city as well. I ended up choosing Notre Dame out of all the schools I got accepted into because I wanted to challenge myself. I knew ND was a Catholic university with very little diversity, but thought I would have the chance to meet new people and share my experiences with them as well.

It was challenging in the beginning because people around me simply didn’t understand my international background. The more time I spent with them, they started having more appreciation for my experiences, and I felt grateful that I had a chance to share this in a new environment. I was prepared to take on challenges and so from the beginning, I took the initiative to make more friends and step out of my comfort zone. I knew I was different, but felt proud of this difference. I would like to tell all international students to embrace their uniqueness.

I went to an American school for most of my life, so the adjustment process wasn’t as difficult for me, but I realized that there are certain aspects that I am clearly different and the only thing I can do is to simply accept this fact. I learned not to feel bad that I can’t fit in at all situations, but feel grateful that I have other experiences that can make up for it.

America the Beautiful

By Hyewon Yun, Korea

“America, the Beautiful.” This is what is written on my National Parks Pass, which allowed my husband and me to access all the amazing National Parks and Seashores at only $80. This summer, my husband and I drove 13,000 miles to explore America on our own. Our expedition could have been shorter and easier if we could spend more summers in the U.S., but we have to return to Korea next May right after my husband’s two-year MBA program is over. We wanted to make the most of our one and only summer break in America. Now, in retrospect, we did not know what we were getting into.

We mostly camped, because we had heard it is a great way to enjoy America’s West and our budget prohibited us from staying at motels every night. Some days out in nature were fun with a rest under the tree shade, a barbeque and star gazing at night; however, it was no longer fun when it became cold, rainy, windy and there was thunder and lightening. Oh, don’t forget the threatening warnings here and there about a bear’s potential visit! And our tent was too small, the air mattress gave us backaches, washing dishes in the rain was horrible, and a 5-minute walk to use a bathroom at 3 a.m. was more horrible. We put our 12-year-old marriage to the test. I found that it took a lot to be a kind and sweet wife when life was tougher (though I am not sure whether I was one even before we took off).

America’s amazing nature came closer to me once I gave up being pretty and charming during camping. Grizzly bears, bison, coyotes and elks were freely roaming on the wide fields at Yellowstone National Park. The towering mountain ridge with snowcaps at Grand Teton National Park took my breath away. The out-of-this-world hoodoos, or tent rocks, at Bryce Canyon were bewitching. Arizona’s Antelope Canyon was the unbelievable product of time, wind and water, and a marvel only Mother Nature could create. The full moon rising over Utah’s Delicate Arch was more dazzling and blinding than any sun. Angel’s Landing at Zion Canyon was the peak with dangerous ledges, which allows only an angel to land, but also has a view as imposing and enchanting as a real angel would be.

Yes, it is true: this country has the world’s biggest economy, spreads pop culture to the world, and has New York, Los Angeles and Disneyland – but, America’s nature is bigger than life. This is what no other place can offer. While fascinated by its grandeur and beauty, I often did not know that tears were rolling down my face and I was asking myself, “How can a person become evil in front of this beautiful nature?” America’s mountains were high, its canyons were deep, and its oceans were wide. How blessed America is to have such a huge and beautiful territory! And it dawned on me that this is it – this is what America shows me. I climbed up all the precipices, paddled the glacial lakes, trudged the dunes, and drove all the mileage day and night for the last three months to find – America the Beautiful.

Kaa kaa kaa kaat-man-duuu

By Dhiraj Pant, Nepal

Many of you have probably heard of the famous track “Kaa kaa kaa kaat-man-duuu” by Bob Seger. It also happens to be the place I hail from, the capital of Nepal. We are a tiny nation sandwiched between two giants: India and China. Nepal is known for her majestic inheritance of the scenic mountains in the Himalayan range and houses the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, which is 8848 m above sea level. What is not so obvious though, is that according to Guinness World Records, we have the shortest man alive, measuring just 67 cm.

I am Dhiraj Pant, a graduate student in the Department of Economics. Back in college, I used to hear a lot about Notre Dame’s tradition, culture and values from my professors, friends and media. What really got me here, however, was the University’s philosophy on ‘unique spirit’ and being open to change. In particular, the development of the new economics program that provides training on policy-relevant research.

Apart from missing home, friends, food and weather, the most challenging aspect for me has been adjusting to a graduate student lifestyle. Given the demanding workload, I have little time to meet new people or to be involved in extracurricular activities. However, with the help of programs coordinated by offices like ISSA, I am able to balance my work and social life.

Overall, the college experience has been more than fruitful and I am looking forward to more great experiences in my remaining years here at Notre Dame.  Go Irish!


Promoting Peace One Step at a Time

By: Njuhi Chenge, Kenya

My name is Njuhi Chege and I come from Nairobi, Kenya. I’m in my final year of the Masters in Peace Studies Program at The Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. I chose Notre Dame because the program allows for a six month international field experience, which I fulfilled in Palestine-Israel.

In my travels around the world, I have discovered a misconception that is shared by quite a lot of people, about Kenya. Firstly, that it is riddled by poverty and hunger. Secondly, that wildlife is the only attraction. So I took it in my stride and have taken it upon myself to expand the narrative about Kenya and its “not so talked about aspects.” This includes the amazing people who consist of over forty-two rich cultures, a vast array of foods, a thriving economy and also the fact that an average Kenyan speaks over three of the 62 languages in Kenya, mainly, their tribal language, Kiswahili and English!

My biggest challenge has been adjusting to life in the USA without the immediate comforts of family and lifelong friends. Leaving my family was one of the hardest choices I have had to make. Adjusting to new surroundings and different culture were the main challenges.

However, it wasn’t long before I built new relationships with students in my program who have become a close knit family of diverse individuals who are all striving to make a lasting impact on humanity and who occasionally host incredibly popular parties dubbed, The Peace Parties.