International Pals (iPals) Helps International Students

L-R) Our Vice President Jessica, Events Coordinator Kemi for the 2014-2015 year and 2013-2014 iPal President Rosemary
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Learn all the ways that iPals at Howard University in Washington, D.C. helps international students.

Obinna Okani, president of iPals, talks with the International Student Voice Magazine telling us about iPals, an organization on Howard University’s campus whose focus is centred on the matriculation of international students on campus. Talking about its origin and how it acts as an aide for international students. Obinna Okani is a senior biology major, with plans to practice medicine, he takes us behind the scenes with a snippet of iPals and how they plan their events, their mission and their goals. Other than what iPals does, Obinna Okani tells us a little bit about how interested students can get involved and possibly join iPals. After a brief introduction Okani was ready to get me up-to-date and informed about iPals.


Tell me a little about what iPals is, who founded it and the kind of things iPals are involved in on campus?

Dr. Ensaw founded International Pals 30 years ago and initially it was a branch of the international student office at Howard University. So the main focus that international pals have is creating an environment suitable for international students to come in and matriculate through Howard University efficiently. Our motto is “Bridging boundaries and forging families”, we are here to provide a support system for the international students so that we can first learn from them and then they learn from us.


Presently what would you say your goals are, I mean it is the middle of the semester, so what have you done so far and what do you plan to do, if anything. Also how do you find creative ways to actually get all these international backgrounds to blend together?

Our first and overall accomplishment that we want to achieve is stability for the international students, everything comes with stability, we want to make sure that the international students are welcomed in a warm way, because not only are they coming to a new university, but they are coming to a new country. So we want to show them that we are here with open arms to receive them, another mission of the organization is “cultural immersion”. Basically since we are an organization that has a vast amount of cultures within it, we like to display that cultural mix and we have done that through different activities such as, a potluck last Sunday, that’s when people in one of the Howard dormitories brought cultural dishes to share with university students.


I was there, it was really good I enjoyed it and the food was on point!

Yes it was a good event, great turn out and you saw that it wasn’t only international students that were there, domestic Howard University students as well. So events like that are things we want to push for. Another event that is coming up is one that we want to have later on in the semester this year, its called HU United Nations, so this is where we will be able to have an open discussion forum on different topics that happen around the world.


That sounds fun. So as an organization on campus, you have an executive board, are other students allowed to join, whether international students or not. [American citizen, permanent resident etc.]

Well the structure of the organization is the arc house, so we have a select body of students who are handpicked the year before. To become an iPal, you do not need to be an international student you just need to have a certain amount of cultural awareness, you have to be open to meeting and speaking with students who may not identify with the culture of the university.


Culture of the University?

What I mean about the culture of the university are the ins and outs of the university, figuring out how to navigate throughout the ‘A building’ (Administrative building), siphoning through classes, figuring out which classes you may want to take example biology, engineering as opposed to someone who is interested in say architecture or design.

So far from the international students that you have met, what do you think are the biggest issues that they face and the trends around international students on campus?

Well the number one complaint is communication. Communication within the university is not the best and that is something we are really working towards right now. I actually met with one international student yesterday and he was telling me how communication doesn’t seem to be the universities strongest suit. He wants to be able to go back to his home country and tell people “my experience at Howard University was great”. The best advertisement of the university of the international community is word of mouth these students will be here for various amounts of time and it is necessary to have these students foster good, memorable experiences so that when they go back they can tell their friends and family “hey I had a great time at Howard University, I think you should apply”.


What is the biggest accomplishment that the iPals have achieved, whether in your year or previous years?

Hmmm, that is a hard one. I don’t really measure the success of the organization by one achievement but minor achievements that are set within the years. I know that freshman week is when the all students are coming back to the university and this past freshman week, we had a bit of a problem with international students and housing. One day somebody told us they did not have housing and as soon as we heard that we went straight to the residence life, figured out what went wrong with their application beforehand and at the end of the day they had something. Those are the minor accomplishments that I think highlight the true essence of what iPals stands for.


You were on top of things quickly, very proactive! Are there any facts or highlights that people should know or that makes iPals stand out?

Again we encourage cultural immersion and so our events are relatively open to the whole university, so that they can learn more about the different countries represented on campus. Howard university prides itself on global leadership and I believe that it is something that is essential to the university, to have such an organization that prides itself on bringing international awareness and culture together so that we can cultivate global leaders.


Wrapping up, are there any suggestions that you would make to new and current international students?

Do not be shut off by what you may see [at] first, because when you come to the university. I know a lot of people have first impressions; some first impressions are great and some first impressions are not that great. I believe that coming to the university with an open, free frame of mind, try to keep your eyes and ears open, because once upon a time when I was a freshman I didn’t know the ins and outs of the university as well and I learned quickly that keeping your ears and eyes open are the only ways you can succeed and matriculate smoothly.

Image courtesy of the Howard University International Pals Facebook page.


Christina_international student voice magazine Christina Burke

ISV Ambassador

Howard University


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