“Cultural differences deserve honor but should not divide our campus.”
When young people travel to different countries, a global consciousness may take form, and a community that isn’t international starts to feel too small. Leini Santos, who goes by Leini, called Manila in the Philippines home until she was eighteen, but by then she had already visited some of Asia’s most exciting cities. Volleyball tournaments took her to Osaka in Japan and Shanghai and Beijing in China. Family trips took her to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and elsewhere. Seeking a major in communication, Leini discovered the University of San Diego through a magazine article and knew it would be right for her. When the opportunity to attend USD became a reality, she felt at home right away with the over 300 international students from sixty-four countries.
One of USD’s goals is to become more culturally diverse, and the university’s Office of International Students and Scholars (shortened to ISO) attracted Elena. At a weekly coffee, the students gather to share their various traditions. As an advisor put it, they talk about more than visas. Students from the more rigid and traditional cultures are sometimes disoriented with the casual approach Americans take. Leini said she was surprised her professors didn’t require her to memorize a lot of material, favoring instead analysis and interpretation. “I was worried all my freshman year,” she says, but she learned to appreciate the challenge. The ISO members come from “all walks of life, yet they all share the experience of coming to America to study. They build camaraderie,” she adds, and, more importantly, “facilitate interaction between international and domestic students to break down the cultural barriers that divide our community.”
Unfortunately, Leini also found that American students could be biased against international students and apathetic toward minority issues. She joined other organizations to do all in her power to improve the situation, adding FUSO (Filipino “Ugnayan” Student Organization) to her weekly meetings. Ugnayan means link or unite and the organization stresses the appreciation of “Filipino” culture as a vital component of identity. Additionally, the group helps its members to succeed academically, socially, and educationally.
In the fall of her second year, Leini added the International Orientation Team to her busy schedule and became a board member of ISO, yet her grades earned her honors at the semester’s end, reaching “First Honors” by the year’s end. She also joined the intramural volleyball club that year and won a leadership award for her contributions to student life.
The following summer she became an intern at the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, Global Center (SOLES) where she “played a crucial role,” according to her coordinator, in arranging experiences for international students, faculty, and staff and by planning international conferences and events, and even in helping to internationalize the university’s curriculum. One conference that relied on Leini’s leadership ability involved 200 attendees from thirty countries. She earned praise for her ability to interact comfortably with high-profile academic leaders.
This energetic young woman continued to sing in the choir and made time for the University Ministry Retreat Team in her junior year. Still, she felt issues were ignored on campus and that sincere voices went unheard. That fall, 2007, two hate-motivated crimes occurred at USD. Leini became a fired-up worker at the Center for Awareness, Service, and Action. On December 6th, she participated in “D-Day,” which stood for Diversity Day, held by the United Front Multicultural Center. A month later she became a board member of the orientation team.
She continues to be an activist and has added two minors to her studies: leadership studies and peace and justice with an emphasis in conflict resolution.