International Student Excellence Program Launches Student-Focused “What Matters to Me and Why Series”

UCI students involved in the International Student Excellence Program (ISEP) decided to launch a “What Matters to Me and Why: Students Series,” an exciting new set of events to spark dialogue and discussion. Part of a larger initiative that seeks to promote inclusion by bringing people together, this new series will provide a venue for exploring the values, beliefs and motivations that drive individual student journeys. The informal series is designed to build and strengthen bonds between people to foster understanding of how each of us embraces the UCI values.

ISEP focuses on three intersecting areas: academic excellence, mentoring, and intercultural engagement. With programs designed to create multi-directional learning opportunities for both international and domestic students, ISEP supports academic, social and cultural competencies necessary to ensure success at UCI and beyond.

This new new series allows students to learn from one another while exploring their own positionality regarding cultural norms and expectations.

“The core concept is to bring cultural differences together through conversations that prompt students to explore the values and motivations that impact their experiences and life here at UCI,” says Zahra Ahmed, Director of ISEP. “The idea is to organize and highlight students in these sharing capacities.”

One key difference between the regular What Matters to Me and Why events and the new student series is that the regular series typically has one person presenting, where the ISEP series showcases multiple students on a panel. For the first event, three ISPG students took the stage and talked about their experiences at UCI. The theme was global cultures and each panel member discussed how they have made the transitions to campus life, highlighting the value of culture and the stigma of representing different views and beliefs.

Students shared the following tips:

Embrace your difference: Students who feel insecure about being different are not alone. Student speakers shared that when they were trying to hide what made them different, they felt lonely. When they turned towards these quirks, and embraced their differences, it made them feel stronger and more confident. What they perceived as a weakness, was discovered to be a strength. Stories were shared about how mentorship played a key role in this discovery, and how panel members were excited to help others become empowered by their cultural differences.

Learn to like ambiguity: The student panel talked about the importance of learning to be more comfortable with the ambiguity and challenges of determining fields of study. The reality is that many students are not sure what major they want to pursue, and this can cause a feeling of awkwardness. The student speakers talked about how they have learned to become comfortable with things not being perfect. Wanting to change majors, and exploring a variety of options post graduation is a part of the college experience. Students discussed that not knowing exact answers, and owning the discovery process, is a sign of maturity.  

The ISEP What Matters to Me and Why committee are planning on meeting over the summer, to build off the success of their first event, and plan for next year. The goal is to hold the ISEP What Matters to Me and Why talks once a month.

If you are interested in working with the new ISEP student committee to suggest topics of interest, be a guest speaker, or volunteer feel free to reach out to isep-due@uci.edu.