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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Sophomore LHP Shane Sdao (38) reacts after a strikeout during Texas A&Ms game against Texas at Disch-Falk Field on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. (CJ Smith/The Battalion)
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Service helps international students bridge cultures

 
 

Painting houses, plucking weeds, fixing fences and planting flowers, a wide range of students came together Saturday to give back to Bryan-College Station with The Big Event.
One organization involved was the International Student Mentor Association, ISMA, which encouraged international students studying at A&M to volunteer for the event. ISMA has several mentors who work to integrate international students into the Texas A&M culture.
Clarisse Natividad, a junior petroleum engineering major who has worked as a mentor for a year, said she has always made an effort to teach international students about various traditions at A&M. She said The Big Event is a wonderful tradition at A&M and a great way for international students to get involved.
“I suppose The Big Event can be a bit intimidating for international students, just because it’s so big,” Natividad said. “But it’s a great way for students to learn about the big service culture we have here at A&M.”
For Sravani Jaligama, doctoral student in electrical engineering and ISMA member, student volunteer work wasn’t a foreign concept. Jaligama said she volunteered with several other students at her undergraduate university in her home country of India to teach children in a neighboring village.
“There were no public schools in the village for education, so we helped them have the opportunity to learn,” Jaligama said. “It was very laid back and peaceful.”
Jaligama said she saw a lot in common with The Big Event and her volunteer experience in India.
“While over here, the size and magnitude are much larger, [but] the people here and [India] work with the same passion and I was excited about that,” Jaligama said. “At the end of the day, I got the same level of satisfaction – whether it’s teaching or doing garden work – that I helped out the community.”
Duoduo Ding, freshman business major, is a member of ISMA from China. Ding said ISMA has helped her to further integrate into the culture and traditions of Texas A&M and get involved in other activities as well, such as MSC ALOT, with whom she chose to participate in The Big Event.
Ding said she was excited to volunteer at The Big Event, particularly because she found a love for community service while volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in high school in China.
“It’s really great to be able to be in a school that focuses a lot on community service projects just like my school back in China,” Ding said.
Ding said she enjoyed the entire experience of The Big Event, including the kickoff with its speeches and upbeat music, but said for her and other students the concept of cleaning a backyard, or even having a backyard, was new.
“In China, we never had backyards,” Ding said. “So we didn’t need to garden. It was my first time to do that and I didn’t know how to do it at first, but after I learned and cleaned the garden I got a sense of accomplishment.”
Jhon Lin, sophomore biological and agricultural engineering major and ISMA member, has lived in Taiwan and Bolivia. He said backyards are virtually non-existent.
“Well, having that much space was not a common thing for the places that I have lived,” Lin said. “It emphasized the idea of Texas – that everything is bigger, you know?”
After Lin’s group finished with its work, the homeowners served them sandwiches and they ate in the backyard together. He said he liked the experience of being able to make conversation with people he had only met hours earlier.
“Community service is a way to see the real world,” Lin said. “In my opinion, it really lets you see society from different perspectives.”
For many students, The Big Event provided more than just a volunteer experience. Natividad said The Big Event sometimes serves as a window into the culture of an American household, something international students rarely get to see.
“Most of the time, international students are around other students in general,” Natividad said. “When the students go to The Big Event, they can see how people here run their household and have a family.”
Jaligama said her experience with volunteer work, particularly The Big Event, has gradually changed her perspective about why volunteering is important.
“I realized that I can help others, and even if it’s in a very small way, at least I am helping,” Jaligama said. “With each time I help others, I feel better, they feel better, and together as a community we grow.”

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