Navigating a new world; International student club provides community for panthers from around the planet

Mayra Jimenez helps students from around the world as student personnel assistant in the International Student Center Feb. 13. Photo by Jiaxin Lu | Staff Photographer |

Anastasia Jones
Staff Writer

A college campus encapsulates the American dream. It’s a place where people of all backgrounds gather with the hope of creating a better life. Strangers become fellow students. Professors become guides in navigating new ideas. A college campus is a place where knowledge becomes tangible, and Sacramento City College brings it to the fingertips of those who came from a world away.

Sacramento is the most ethnically diverse city in America, according to a study done by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. This diversity flows into City College classrooms; each class its own multicultural snapshot. While the student body maintains a unique demographical flavor, there’s another dimension less visible the casual onlooker: Where they’re from.

The International Student Center in Rodda Hall North is home base for all international City College students. Here, students receive guidance and support to better prepare them for a successful semester. Although their staff base is small, the ISC counselors do the work of many. Mayra Jimenez knows firsthand what these students need.

Jimenez, one of the two ISC counselors, was once an international student at City College. Originally from Nicaragua, Jimenez started her career by helping students when she was still a student herself.

“I always tell people the position doesn’t fit any hat,” Jimenez said about her role at the ISC. “Our job is to assist students from pre-admission until they depart the United States. My position is to give support.”

Jimenez said there are currently 189 international students enrolled this semester, and she sees an upward trend on enrollment.

“We are an armchair recruitment,” she said. “We don’t pay (for) any advertisement. Students are here by referral, (but) we do have a pretty good number in relation to Los Rios district.”

She continued to explain that connecting with students is the most rewarding part of the job.

“Numbers are important, but the human part… When I speak with students, I speak with my hands. I’ll do whatever it takes to communicate, so I write down and explain, we use the computer — it’s an interaction of using multiple senses. You cannot treat every student the same. That is the human part more than the numbers.”

Of the 189 international students, the largest groups are from China, Vietnam and Korea with approximately 50, 40 and 20 students respectively. There are a total of 35 foreign countries currently represented at City College.

While the scope of countries represented is wide, international students make up less than 1 percent of the total student body at City College this semester, according to current enrollment statistics on the college website. Some of these students feel they are lost in the crowd. Seungjin Jung, a 28-year-old student from South Korea, is struggling to make connections.

“If I came here when I was in high school, I would more be able to adapt myself to here.” Jung described his experience as a foreign student at City College. “I thought it would be cool to come to California, (that) there would be so many things to do… but Sacramento is very quiet. I grew up in Seoul. It’s very different.”

Jung is part of a student club called Sac City International Life, which is meant to give students a network of support.

“The group is helpful,” said Jung. “I have made a small amount of good friends, and they’re very nice. It’s getting better.”

The club, organized by the Sacramento International Student Fellowship, provides activities, outings and dinners for international students to practice learning English while building relationships. Rupali Dogra, a 20-year-old student from India, said she also attends the club’s meetings in order to make new friends.

“We got to know about this club through the International student orientation,” said Dogra, sitting with her friend who is also an international student. “We were so happy, like, ‘We gotta go!’ When we came here, we were kind of hesitant to talk to people, like, ‘Oh, I might say something wrong.’ When you are doing the talk time thing (with SCIL), you can practice your English.”

Dogra is majoring in graphic communication and has already completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology from her home town of New Delhi. She said she prefers college in Sacramento over college in India.

“I like the way we are taught here,” Dogra said. “There are more resources, and the professors are really qualified. Most of them have a Ph.D. and I’m, like, ‘Wow! I’m talking to someone with a doctorate right now. I’m getting an opportunity to be taught by them, and that’s amazing.’”

City College, the oldest institution of higher learning in Sacramento, has a vision: “To create a learning community that celebrates diversity, nurtures personal growth, and inspires academic and economic leadership,” according to its website. Counselor Jimenez believes it’s important to support students in order to make this vision a reality.

“The wealth of a country is their people and how educated they are,” She said. “Sacramento City College is a micro representation of what the real United States is. I think I will retire when I cannot remember the student’s name.”

Those who wish to practice English can attend a SCIL meeting Tuesdays at noon at the Student Center. For more guidance, visit the ISC in Rodda Hall North Room 138.