"Many rivers of experiences, identities and perspectives that originate from all over the world flow [to USC] into this confluence of creativity and possibility," Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni said at the opening ceremony of the University Village in mid-August. "May all those who live and study [at the University] find inspiration and enlightenment, peace and purpose, a sense of belonging and significance in all that they do."
USC is transforming into a school of acceptance and tolerance, Soni said in his speech, and he expressed his hopes of how students of all identities will find meaning and security on campus.
To address the needs of this thriving, diverse international population, USC has developed programs and resources for students to better help their transition to a college environment.
Between the resources provided by the Office of Residential Education, the Office of International Services and inclusive student organizations, students from other countries have many outlets to use when adjusting to the L.A. campus.
The most prominent of these resources, the International Residence College, lies in the southwest corner of campus as part of a freshman housing complex. IRC is a dorm that houses a large portion of international students, an accommodation USC believes softens the transition for students who are moving here from other countries. Because freshmen from different countries may be unfamiliar with Los Angeles, American students and their customs, this community of international students is said to serve as a kind of buffer between students and their new home away from home.
Justin Sian, a sophomore from the Philippines, said his experience in IRC last year was positive because he had diverse suite members. Having American students in his suite as well as other international students, he explained, helped him feel comfortable in his new surroundings.
"I didn't have as much of a culture shock since there were people in the same situation as me," Sian said. "There were also domestic students who could kind of guide me through what I didn't understand."
When IRC first opened in 2001, Ken Taylor, the assistant vice president for student affairs, told USC News that the academic environment and diversity of the dorm gently introduces students to their peers.
"This new residential college is not simply to provide housing, but to provide an opportunity for international students to interact with U.S. students," Taylor said.
Timothy Bethune, the dorm's residential college coordinator, said IRC programs introduce international students to the American way of life so that by the end of the year, they are accustomed to the university and the city as a whole.
"Their knowledge of what college is supposed to be in the United States is what they know from media and movies, when it's so much more than just that," Bethune said.
Bethune said IRC's population is comprised of 42 percent international students and 58 percent U.S. residents.
Coming to a new place alone can be very difficult for these students. IRC helps these individuals by providing them with a little bit of home, and a little bit of Los Angeles. The higher ratio of American students allows them the opportunity to learn about new cultures while helping their international counterparts with the transition to a new country, Bethune said.
"What a college student looks like in China is very different than what a college student looks like in the U.S," Bethune explained. "Helping to blend that and make a very unique experience is something that we try to make sure we're giving our students here at Parkside IRC."
Sian credits his assimilation into the USC community to IRC, but he said that wasn't the case for everyone. He described situations in which problems arose because students were not split up evenly, sometimes "segregating" international and domestic students.
"Because the international student population in IRC is [large], you will definitely have a lot of dorms or suites that are pretty much all international students," Sian said. "And if that's the case, it kind of defeats the purpose of trying to put domestic students in the dormitory to try and help international students."
But Bethune explained that the placement of students in suites is not organized in a way that maintains a particular ratio of international to U.S. students. Rather, residents either pick their roommates or are assigned to a room randomly.
"We do have some suites that are mostly international students. We have some that are mostly domestic students. It's at random," he said. "We don't assign folks based off of just putting international students together or making sure we have a certain mix of individuals who live in a suite."
Junco Nelson, a sophomore American student who lived in IRC last year, said her suitemates were all randomly assigned, and about half were international and half were U.S. residents. She said a major draw to the residential college for her was actually the building's newer construction.
"I liked the suite style, and when I toured for my orientation, I realized how nice the facilities were," Nelson said. "And I'm an engineering major so [the building is] pretty close to my classes."
Sian said in his experience, students in IRC are not encouraged to reach outside their comfort zones when they are placed in housing with people they are already familiar with.
"Since all of [the international students'] friends would most likely be in IRC with them–friends from their old high schools or neighborhoods–they would not see the benefit or need to reach out to domestic students," Sian explained.
Nelson thinks that international students often look to mingle with one another because that is what is most comfortable. While this diminishes some of IRC's purpose, she said this tendency ends up benefitting the students in the long run.
"I feel like being at USC will mix you enough with domestic students," Nelson said. "So if you can live with other people who speak the same language, that would probably be really comforting, even if it does get a little cliquey."
Because IRC's process often results in similar international students residing in close quarters, Sian said spreading these students across more than one residence hall could help carry out the residential college's main goal–challenging international students socially without making them lonely.
"[USC could] just split [international students] over just one or two dorms, maybe even three dorms to kind of balance out that [international-to-American student] ratio" Sian suggested.
But despite its issues, he said having a building dedicated to international students is better than completely scattering them across all of the dorms.
"If we sprinkled all the international students over all the dorms, I think that there would be too few of them in a single dorm and they might feel alienated," Sian said. "They might feel like it was too much for them."
In addition to residential education programs, USC has the Office of International Services or OIS on campus to provide international Trojans with more technical information such as passport verification or changing a permanent address. Additionally, OIS posts articles that discuss information related to problems these students may face while interacting with Americans, or how U.S. policy could affect their residency in the country.
While OIS is helpful when it comes to issues of visas and passports, the office is hard to access, Sian said.
"I don't quite feel that USC is giving OIS that many resources, because compared to other organizations and student services like the Asian Pacific American Student Services, OIS doesn't even have a dedicated office," he said. "They move from year to year whenever a different organization needs a space."
Judith Hartwich, the senior associate director of the office said its location on campus is not ideal for international students.
"We are in the northeast corner of campus which is quite a distance from the center of campus," Hartwich said, "Since so many of our students are engineering students, they have a long way to travel to reach us."
Another university-funded organization that seeks to make international students more acquainted with USC culture is the International Student Assembly, known as ISA. Sian is the chair of internal affairs of ISA. He said the student-run organization puts on events and workshops to familiarize foreign students with Los Angeles culture and USC traditions.
"Part of our events help international students assimilate into the culture in USC. For example, Football 101 which teaches them about American football," Sian said.
Generally, international students make up most of ISA's event attendance, however, some more recreational events encourage American students to attend as well. These events work to connect students with various backgrounds to create friendships and unity among people of every age and country, he said.
"We have other events as well that are just open to the entire student body," Sian said. "We host them in hopes that both domestic students and international students will come so that they can kind of get to know each other better."
As the school's international population continues to grow, students continue to stress how critical it is for USC to dedicate resources to accommodate this increase to prevent a disjointed and unbalanced campus experience.
"I think [resources] should grow in proportion to the amount of international students. More resources will need to be allocated because those students coming into USC might feel like [it's] unfair that they have less opportunities than other students," Sian said.