When you look around campus, there is no question that Georgia Tech sustains a diverse student body. The Office of International Education reports that over 5,000 international students from 128 countries are enrolled at the Institute. The thought of moving thousands of miles away from home and family may sound daunting to some, but the International Ambassadors at Georgia Tech (GTIA) attempt to ease this transition.
Yebin (Alice) Choi, a fourth-year undergraduate in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), now president of GTIA, joined the organization because she saw the variety of Tech’s student body and wanted to immerse herself in it. Born and raised in Korea, Choi’s move to the United States offered a large contrast to the cultural homogeneity she had experienced. “Coming to Tech, where I saw different races and cultures, made me want to experience the diversity of our campus,” she said.
Third-year ISyE undergraduate Aarushi Khajuria shared these sentiments. Her family, native to India, moved to Jamaica when she was five years old. “From a very young age I valued diversity because of the experiences I had growing up,” Khajuria explained. For most of her early years, she grew up surrounded by people who didn’t look, live, or speak like her. “I've never really felt like I fit in in any particular culture so when I heard about GTIA, I felt like it would be a community that I would fit into,” Khajuira said. Her feelings proved true, and she has been a part of the organization her whole time at Georgia Tech.
Choi and Khajuria now lead over 60 members of GTIA as president and executive vice president. They work hand in hand to provide positive experiences for international students. From the moment they joined, they got involved in leadership which ultimately led to their current roles. Their management style is a balance, with Choi heading external relations, collaborating with other student organizations and seeking out resources for international students, while Khajuria oversees internal aspects of the organization. Their ISyE backgrounds have come in handy when dealing with logistics, planning, process design for meetings, and efficiency.
It may seem like there could be conflict with the wide array of cultural differences in the organization, but Choi explains that open-mindedness is one of the main criteria for being an ambassador. “My favorite part of about being in GTIA is interacting with people from so many different backgrounds,” she said. The differences among the organization’s members unite them.
Collaboration is very important to Choi and Khajuria. “We’re holding large events like Night Market, where over 15 student associations collaborate with us. They represent their culture and teach Tech students about their heritage and backgrounds,” Choi explained. GTIA holds Night Market every fall in order to showcase this diversity. At the event, which takes place on Tech Walkway, you can find performances, food, and art from different countries and traditions. GTIA also collaborates with different cultural organizations such as the African Student Association, the Egyptian Student Association, and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers to put on Culture Fest, a week-long celebration of the diversity on Georgia Tech’s campus. International students can share their cultures through food and art, while native students can experience different cultures and appreciate their differences.
For international students, the All-Majors Career Fair can be tricky to maneuver since many companies don’t accept certain visas. In response, Choi coordinated with the Career Fair organizers to create a list of employers that will hire international students. Domestic students at Georgia Tech don't have to worry about issues like these, so GTIA facilitates the process for their members.
With the campus now shut down because of the coronavirus, GTIA faced many unique challenges, especially for the international students in the organization. The dilemma for many was deciding whether to travel back to their home countries or to stay in Atlanta. The issue stems from the uncertainty of returning to the United States, if they choose to return to their home country. This stressful time in these international students' lives was partially relived with support from GTIA. Members who were local to Atlanta offered to store items for students who had to leave abruptly. Now more than ever, international students need the support and the resources that GTIA provides.
Although GTIA is just eight years old, the organization has served the entire campus by sharing with the student body the value of cultural diversity. More importantly, GTIA provides a safe space for students to express their cultural background. As Khajuria explained, “Respecting everyone and their background, their ideologies, what they stand for, and where they’re from is the most important goal.”
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering