AIS aims to raise visibility, coordination of international student organizations

As the 2012 University of Wisconsin–Madison Homecoming Parade was about to begin, Mou Jian (MJ) Teo stood in front of his group’s float. Adorned with flags from all over the world, the float had taken a lot of time and effort to build and now was ready for its debut.

Teo and other members of the Assembly of International Students (AIS), an umbrella group for international student organizations on campus, were set to mark a milestone: For the first time, an international student group was being represented in the homecoming parade.

AIS 02At the last minute, however, they discovered that the brake lights on their trailer was not working, which made their float a safety hazard.

But the AIS team didn’t let that setback keep them out of the parade.

Acting quickly, they moved many of the flags from the trailer to the flatbed of a truck, and then carried the rest by hand. As they walked through the streets, waving the flags, the homecoming crowd went wild.

“It was exciting, as international students, you know, bringing something through campus,” says Teo, who currently serves as executive director of AIS. “People were cheering for us as well. That was a great thing.”

Seeking a campus-wide level of recognition was what AIS set out to do when it began two years ago. Laurie Cox, assistant dean and director of International Student Services (ISS), brought the idea of AIS to UW–Madison from her earlier work in California.

“On my previous campus, there was a decades-old tradition of international student organizations joining together under the Assembly of International Students. They were the organization that helped bring all of the international student clubs together to plan campus-wide events and helped provide funding for joint or individual culture-focused events,” Cox says.

“I advised this group for approximately eight years and felt this model would be especially appropriate for the rather decentralized UW–Madison campus,” she explains.

The group started out small, but has slowly grown to 14, ranging from the Chilean Students Association to the China Economic Forum. AIS brings these organizations together twice a month to encourage networking among international student leaders, and to collaborate on events and promoting their groups to the larger campus community.

“They have been doing a great job in connecting us with other international-based student organizations on campus,” says Wilson Teddy, public relations office of the Indonesian Student Association. “Through the AIS general member meeting, we get the chance to meet and share thoughts with other student leaders, as well as collaborate with them.”

AIS 01AIS sponsors events throughout the academic year. For Chinese New Year, the Chinese member organizations collaborated on an event, which drew more than 2,000 people.

As executive director, Teo wants to see AIS, which has a large concentration of Asian student groups, expand to get a better representation from areas throughout the world.

“Right now we are trying to reach out to as many organizations as possible, trying to provide support for them, helping them grow not only in funding but in marketing and events as well,” says Teo, a senior studying actuarial science.

Born and raised in Malaysia, Teo moved to Madison for his sophomore year of college and joined AIS as the public relations director soon after he arrived.

“I wanted some exposure to how things run over here from a big-picture standpoint rather than going into a single organization, where you see it from a one-dimensional perspective,” he says. “I wanted to see how things were run, so AIS seemed like a good choice for me.”

He adds, “I like talking to people, I like meeting people. So this gave me a chance to meet people from across the country and all over the world.”

— by Jeff Cartwright