The KAIST community has definitely seen notable changes as the KAIST International Students Association (KISA) launched a variety of activities and programs geared towards improving KAIST life for international students. An open forum was held on May 31 where KISA discussed its projects and accomplishments in the past year (see KISA President Hopefuls Debate at Open Forum for more details). The KAIST Herald also sat down with Shubranil Sengupta to discuss his term as KISA president.
The main challenge that KISA faced was its lack of presence on campus. Making connections with the different school offices and associations, such as the Graduate Students Association (GSA) and the KAIST Undergraduate Association (UA), was the most difficult part of rebuilding KISA, according to Sengupta. Because KISA was rebuilding itself from scratch, there was a lot of trial and error with project organization and execution.
In the 2018 Fall semester, KISA rebuilt its internal infrastructure and means of communication with KAIST administrative offices and the student community. Events and projects were restarted in an effort to make its presence known, especially to the international community. KISA organized a Chuseok party for internationals to be introduced to Korean culture through games and presentations. Another event was the sports festival, which included competitions in table tennis, badminton, basketball, among others. KISA also launched its Voice service, through which students can anonymously submit their problems. A small group within KISA looks through the problems regularly and brings important ones to the attention of school authorities and administrative departments. “When people are submitting problems and we [take] actions to solve them, we are hoping that people’s image of KISA would change,” Sengupta adds.
The first problem that KISA solved was the installation of bidets in the Munji dormitories. Sengupta reveals that this project required three meetings, because it took a lot of funding and because KISA had to establish a position to demand change. To respond to the problems with the undergraduate international students’ monthly stipend, the Lotteria meal scholarship program was introduced. Another problem that was frequently raised was the rare acceptance of international students to Korean clubs. As a solution to this, the KISA room was opened for jam sessions and practices. This turned into a group of six members that performs regularly in bars and other places.
The main projects that were organized in the winter semester are the transfer of KAIST ONE organization to KISA (see KAIST ONE Resignation Prompts Reshuffle for more details) and collaborations with the Communication Globalization Committee (CGC) for increased translations of social media posts. KISA had several meetings with important school departments and associations such as UA, The KAIST Herald, and ISSS. KISA also organized a country and club representatives’ meeting in the 2019 Spring semester in order to have a direct way to increase feedback and suggestions from the community. The KISA-UA language exchange program was also established as a way to increase interactions between Korean and international students. Other yearly events such as the KAIST International Food Festival and the KISA strawberry party were also promoted.
Currently, one of the main projects that KISA is working on regards the salary of graduate international students. Their minimum monthly salary is between 350,000 to 400,000 KRW, compared to the Korean graduate students’ minimum salary of around 600,000 KRW. KISA is coordinating with the international office to resolve this issue. Other projects include policy changes for international students with maternity issues, improvements to the international kitchen, and increased communications with country representatives.
Although big steps were taken in the past year, we can all agree that KISA still has a lot of room for improvement. Sengupta stresses the need for the international community to voice out their problems and suggestions so that concrete actions can be taken.