What is The International Students Association?

ISA, is the biggest international student association at MSU. It is an umbrella organization that represents all international students, where affiliate groups can apply to ISA for support and make sure international students’ voices are heard as well as sponsoring events throughout the year.

Photo Credit: Jim Xu
Photo Credit: Simon Dong Ha Lee

Two weeks ago, 70 students, staff from OISS and guest speakers traveled to the Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) in Hickory Corners, Michigan. Every year, ISA puts together a weekend long leadership retreat at KBS with the help of OISS and financial support from ASMSU.

The goals are to bring together current leaders of international student organizations as well as students that have been identified as future leaders and to help students improve leadership skills. The retreat also fosters collaboration between students from different cultures.

Perspectives from OISS Staff

“My favorite part of the retreat is seeing students who have never had the opportunity to meet each other bond and create meaningful friendships,” said Amber Cordell, Educational Programs Manager at OISS. “It’s great watching the students learn and grow together and seeing their ‘aha’ moments.”

Photo Credit: Jim Xu
Photo Credit: Simon Dong Ha Lee

Every year the program includes team-building activities, ice breakers, presentations on various leadership topics from experts, presentations on funding opportunities and a bonfire. Presenters and topics vary each year however. The presenters talk about intercultural communication, self-awareness, overcoming challenges, working well with others, team building and being the best leader you can be.

“Having two dedicated days off campus, away from distractions, gives leaders an opportunity to focus on getting to know themselves and each other, as well as learning important leadership skills that will serve them in their roles on organization eboards,” Cordell said. “Spending that much time together in the same location, in cabins and around a bonfire is a better environment than being on campus with so many other demands. It’s also more fun than meeting in a conference room.”

At the retreat the students are breaking down barriers and getting more comfortable with each other. Cordell said it’s amazing seeing lifelong friendships formed.“I encourage students to find their passion, create a vision for themselves as leaders, get involved in a current organization or start a new one and be willing to serve others,” Cordell said.

What do students learn at ISA retreat?

The theme this year was “Building Bridges.” Joy Walter from OISS facilitated an intercultural communication simulation and debrief discussion. Ivan Wu, a PhD students, discussed the importance of mindfulness in leadership. Paul Artale, a PhD student, shared stories of overcoming obstacles and aligning with one’s values.

Alaa Tayeb, MSU alumnus and his wife, Miriam Alamiri, MSU senior, talked to students about making their dreams come true. Amber Cordell led a discussion on courage, vulnerability and letting go of perfection and showed an inspirational TED talk by Benjamin Zander. For the first time, students also took the strengths finder assessment.

What did international students think of the retreat?

“I’m so glad I was able to participate for a second time. It was a great experience to meet new friends, catch up with old friends, and learn about different cultures around the world,” said Jim Xu, who was an ISA eboard member from 2014-2015. “This weekend could not have gone better in any other way. I want to thank Amber, the ISA eboard, and everyone else that made this amazing event happen.”

“As an international student, the retreat was a great way for me to get to learn many resources on campus and helped me to get involved in on campus activities and events,” said Naif Alyami, director of public relations for ISA. “I got to make new friends, speak in public, dance, play games, and learn valuable knowledge about leadership skills that would benefit me in the near future.”

Photo Credit: Caroline Wu
Photo Credit: Simon Dong Ha Lee