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Get to know UCLA International Student Ambassadors

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International Student Ambassadors represent their home countries and cultures at UCLA. Several will be present at the World Café on Thursday, November 21, from 11:30 a.m. to 1: 30 p.m. at the Kerckhoff Grand Salon.

by Morgan Neubert
Dashew Center for International Students & Scholars

Many Bruins are unaware of an engaging and resourceful program that deploys international students as ambassadors of their home countries and cultures at UCLA: the UCLA International Student Ambassadors Program.

Ambassadors are one of the first point of contact for incoming international students. They support incoming students by providing advice and resources to help ease their transition to life in Los Angeles and at UCLA. They advocate to UCLA staff and faculty on behalf of the entire international community to ensure their voice is heard. They are also a resource for their American and other international peers on campus to learn about their countries and cultures.

Below are two profiles of current International Student Ambassadors, several of which will be on hand at an upcoming International Education Week 2019 event: World Café. Hosted by the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars, the event takes place on Thursday, November 21st, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Kerckhoff Grand Salon. All students, scholars, faculty and staff are welcome.

International Student Ambassador for United Arab Emirates
Student: Meghna Komaranchath, UCLA 2021 (She/ They)
Major: Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics & Communications (Double Major)

Tell us about yourself
I was born in the Kerala, India. Though I lived in India for 10 years, I moved around a lot until I finally settled in Al-Ain in UAE. Al-Ain is the place I’ve actually settled in for the longest and it’s home when I go back for my holidays. I currently am a part of a research lab in Gonda (Neuroscience and Genetics Research Center) and a bunch of clubs on campus that interest me. I love trying out authentic cuisines from all over the world and cooking (even if it drives me insane). When I’m not hanging out with people or doing work, my go-to is a nice book from my ever-growing pile or a new TV show.

Why did you choose to come to UCLA?
I was always interested in genetics and wanted to study in the United States, where most of my knowledge of genetics originated from. Applying to colleges in the Unites States itself was a last minute decision that included taking both SAT tests in a span of 2 months and a whole lot of mayhem on my end. I wasn’t even planning on applying to the UC’s until I started looking at rankings, saw UCLA, and applied.

When I got my acceptance, I was ecstatic and after some minor deliberation, I accepted. It was most definitely the best decision I made. The resources I got, the opportunities I have had are incomparable and I am really grateful for having taken the leap and applied here. Also it’s such a beautiful campus with really nice climate!

What is the biggest difference between your home country and the U.S.?
There is definitely a degree of freedom I have as a woman that’s not there in my home country India, nor my home UAE. I can unabashedly be myself here which is lovely and a bit of a culture shock when I go back home. I also love how friendly but respectful people are here at UCLA.

I guess my biggest issue is the difference in food, the really early timings Americans have their dinner (5pm is snack time!) and the fact that the spicy food is usually just spicy, not flavorful spicy, which is disappointing to say the least. Also, the fact that you have to walk a lot through hilly terrain at UCLA (I’ve had to lock my heels away).

International Student Ambassador for Brazil
Student: Leonardo Dantas, Class of 2020
Major: Political Science and International Development Studies (Double-Major)

Tell us about yourself 
Born and raised in Brazil, I spent most of my life in Joinville, a city in the second southernmost state of the country. I love studying pretty much anything, but if it is human-related—like history, geography, philosophy, or sociology—it has a special place in my heart. Still, I would say I’m rather active—meaning I can survive in most sports—and I do spend my fair amount of time playing video games and catching up with some shows on Netflix.

Today, I’m the president of BRASA (Brazilian Student Association) at UCLA, I’m working in the History Department as a research assistant, and I’m pursuing a senior thesis on Brazilian political parties. My plan is to either pursue a PhD in comparative politics or become a diplomat—let’s see what happens.

Why did you choose to come to UCLA?
Since my 9th grade I have been dreaming of studying abroad—and California has always been my go-to state. As being so far away from my comfort zone was already a given, I preferred a warmer, friendlier environment that offered me plenty of options. In the end, UCLA was the only Californian college that accepted me (I mean, USC also did it, but now I just pretend I never second-guessed ditching them for my fellow Bruins).

What is the biggest difference between your home country and the U.S.?
Even though this will seem absurdly obvious, the major difference is that I was not born here—and I never imagined the impact this would actually have on my experience here. From misunderstanding fairy-tale references, restaurant names, celebrities, and songs to simply lacking knowledge of what a “frat rush” or SNL was, I felt extremely unprepared to immerse myself in the American world.

On a more cultural aspect, I would say my greatest surprise was to see how individualistic and consumerist most Americans are. Of course people all around the world know about this stereotype, but actually witnessing it and seeing how Americans themselves are unaware of their unsustainable ways was very surprising. Also, sometimes I get the impression people assume you have ill intentions until proven otherwise — which contrasts with the naïve friendliness of Brazilians my entire life.

Besides that, it surprises me how people here really divide themselves up into very specific social groups that carry a fixed identity and set of behavior rules. Sometimes it’s even scary how similar people talk and dress within their groups, and how hostile each of these groups is to each other. This applies perfectly to politics and social issues in general, but for that I blame my major.

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