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International Student Organizations Provide Structure for Foreign Students

All across the United States, at every major University - and many smaller ones as well - visiting foreign students gather every day to help one another negotiate the social and academic challenges of campus life. They share cultural values and memories of home, and frequently forge lifelong friendships.

But beyond these informal alliance are thousands of University-supported International Student Organizations, providing foreign-born students with a structured environment for good works…and good times. VOA's George Dwyer recently met with students involved in a couple of 'ISO',s as they are called.

Ekaterina Apostolova came to the University of Nebraska from Bulgaria three years ago to study international political economy. She quickly found an outlet for both her interest and her skills.

"I became involved with the International Student Organization the first year I came here. I was the secretary, then I became the vice president, and this year I am the president," says Ekaterina.

Today she is chairing a meeting of student organization presidents from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Germany, Japan and several other nations all here on a special mission to raise funds for the victims of last December's catastrophic South Asian tsunami.

"There are a lot of students from China and India, and there are students from Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Serbia, and they thought that we all need to be together, to get together and to help the tsunami victims and to raise more money. We thought that if we all get together then we'll be able to raise more money than separate organizations," adds Ms. Apostolova.

That level of cooperation is something new says the University's Director of International Student Services Karen Cagley.

"Everybody is coming together for the same purpose, working together to get some kind of relief to take something to the victims," she says.

Nebraska hosts 25,000 students, 2,000 of them from abroad. But because of heightened security concerns following the September 11, 2001 attacks those numbers are dropping.

"The barriers that the United States has to international students coming here to the country are more substantial than what the students in, let's say going to the United Kingdom or Australia, other English speaking countries are. And so we're losing out on the students that normally would have come to the United States because they have too many steps involved to get here," says Karen.

But that hasn't affected the enthusiasm of those already here. Mariam Habib is President of the Afghan Student's Organization at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

"We are the children of expatriates that came from Afghanistan in the '70's so a number of us were actually born in Afghanistan, and then like myself some of us were born here, for us it's really important to really preserve that culture and to kind of promote it with one another, and there's also a lot of causes like to, like, help out with," says Mariam.

That includes fundraising, and food and clothing drives for relief to war-torn Afghanistan.

"It's a way for us to give back, because we consider ourselves lucky ones that actually went on to have a life here with privileges, so it's our duty to give back to the community that's there, that's where we came from," says Mariam.

"First yesterday, Tuesday, we had a donation booth at the 'Study Abroad Fair'. We raised $25.48," says Ekaterina.

Wherever they've come from, America's visiting students are using the force of numbers to make a better future for themselves, and for the rest of us as well.