Members of the International Student Organization traveled to Washington, D.C., for National Advocacy Day to talk with their legislators about current bills and discussions concerning international education.
Concordia students Prashansha Maharjan ’20, Mikayla Frey ’17, Utsah Shrestha ’19, Carolyne Murigu ’20, and Anh Vu ’19, accompanied Shan “Susanna” Lu, assistant director of international community, to the nation’s capital to join more than 300 scholars for National Advocacy Day, a conference hosted by the Association of International Educators (NAFSA).
At the conference, Lu and the students were prepped on how to have effective meetings with legislators about the current bills concerning international education. Nepal native Maharjan found the briefings to be extremely helpful.
“The session taught me how to prepare for the meeting, what to say, and how to say it,” Maharjan says. “We had done some background research and research on the senators, representatives, and issues that we would be talking about, but without the briefing we wouldn’t have been as prepared for our meetings as we were.”
The students learned about three topics – the BRIDGE Act, Senator Paul Simon’s Study Abroad Act, and Championing the Value of International Students and Scholars.
The BRIDGE Act, or Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream of Growing our Economy Act, delves into the issue that minor-aged children of immigrant parents are not protected under President Trump’s immigration ban. The Senator Paul Simon’s Study Abroad Program promotes more American students to study abroad. Lastly, “Championing the Value of International Students and Scholars” is an issue brought up because the academic world has seen a decrease in the number of international students applying to study in the U.S.
Frey, a Minnesota native, found the human aspect of sharing personal stories influenced their advocacy more than the facts on the bills.
“For some of them [the legislators], this is one of the primary issues they work on, so they hear about it day in and day out, but when we told them stories about how much things changed,” Frey says, “they became more engaged, they saw why we cared about this issue, and overall they had more to connect with us about."
It was really the human element of us traveling from Minnesota to D.C. to share our voices that helped move our causes forward. – Mikayla Frey '17
The group met with several congressmen, including Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. The students met with Seventh Congressional District Rep. Collin Peterson, even though his office was technically closed due to the snowstorm, and Peterson applauded them for their work.
“This week, a group from Concordia College stopped by the office in support of NAFSA, the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers,” Peterson said in a weekly newsletter. “The organization brings together students and scholars from around the world to foster a global idea exchange. I commend these students for their hard work and interest in public policy.”
Vhu, a Vietnam native, found the experience to be a success.
“We understand that our senators and representatives offer the same attitudes toward the current issues (as we do),” Vhu says. “They are doing everything they can to ensure that international communities here feel welcomed, safe and protected.”
Lu has participated in NAFSA Advocacy Day twice. She believes the experiences the students gain at this conference is a way for them to begin engaging with the world.
“It’s often easy for students to have the idea that ‘the real world is still a couple years away; I will be able to get involved on a bigger scale once I graduate,’” Lu says. “Advocacy Day is a very unique experience for students to travel to D.C. and get to learn about how U.S. government and policy are operated in the heart of it all. Most of the students who have the chance to go and attend Advocacy Day didn’t realize they have a voice in important policy making; their stories matter.”
Sage Larson '17 is studying multimedia journalism and Spanish.