The University of Iowa

Sydney Nguyen on her sense of community at the University of Iowa

March 18th, 2021
Sydney Nguyen near the Old Capitol in Iowa City, Iowa

Sydney Nguyen near the Old Capitol in Iowa City, Iowa

Sydney Nguyen, English and creative writing major from Vietnam, has already made a large impact on campus in just her second year of her undergraduate career. That involvement has helped her to thrive as a student and gain a sense of community at the University of Iowa. She kindly shared thoughts about her UI experience – read on below.

How did you choose to attend the University of Iowa?
As an English and creative writing major, the University of Iowa's English department has been a wonderful resource and support for my creative endeavors. That is one of the biggest reasons why I chose to come to Iowa. Another reason was the international student community. I did my research and found out that the University of Iowa was one of the most popular universities chosen by students from outside the United States. I was hoping that I could make more connections here in Iowa, and I did! By being a part of the Multicultural & International Student Support & Engagement (MISSE) community, I have found another home.

Sydney Nguyen sporting a Multicultural & International Student Support & Engagement (MISSE) shirt

Sydney Nguyen sporting a Multicultural & International Student Support & Engagement (MISSE) shirt

You work in the Multicultural & International Student Support & Engagement (MISSE) office as a Programming Assistant. Can you tell us about your work there?

I work in MISSE but more specifically, in ISSE, which is the International Student Support and Engagement area. We focus on creating programs that assist the international student community with their needs. It is a small team (I work with Shuhui Lin, my supervisor, and Danielle Ramsay-Smith, a practicum student) but probably because of the size, I have gained a lot of experience—from developing my own programs to managing the ISSE's Instagram (@uiowaisse). I joined ISSE when we just started our Instagram, so I have been partially responsible for its growth since. Each semester I set out goals for myself and this Spring 2021, I am hoping to turn my programming ideas into reality and continue growing our Instagram. My first program happened last February, and I am in the planning process for a workshop this upcoming April. 

Can you tell us a little bit about OASIS and your role in the organization?

OASIS is short for the Organization for the Active Support for International Students. I joined the organization my freshman year and served as the presidential assistant. I ran for president right after COVID-19 happened (March/April 2020) and a year has already passed since. OASIS was, to put it lightly, life-changing. It was where I made my first connections in college and many of my friends are still with me thanks to OASIS. And that is really the point of the organization, too—to bring people together, domestic or international, and maintain those connections to continue building a healthy, supportive, multi-ethnic, and diverse community on the UI campus. It's a lot of fun and at the same time educational because where else on campus can you find a big group of multicultural students being so close and so proud of our cultures at the same time? We learn from each other in a natural way and I am grateful for that. Before the pandemic, I helped make the annual Multicultural Showcase possible. It attracted roughly 500 people and it was the highlight of my freshman year. However, the pandemic forced me to adjust accordingly in a leadership position. Similar to many other organizations, OASIS had some troubles with maintaining our social events, which is unfortunate because "socialization" is the essence of our organization. OASIS's E-Board had to make some structural changes to focus more on our internal values instead of external activities. It was a hard decision but it seems to be working as we are still getting new members and attendance has been fairly consistent! 2020 was tough but 2021 is looking up as we are "rebranding" with a new logo and new merchandise. OASIS is again, entering a new chapter.

Sydney Nguyen in an Iowa City, Iowa, comic store

Sydney Nguyen in an Iowa City, Iowa, comic store

What are some of your favorite things about the University of Iowa campus?

I don't think I have fully enjoyed all the coffee shops on campus yet and that has been my goal since freshman year. I like to have an ambience when I study and places like the Java House, Dash, The High Ground, or Mammitas are divine. The pandemic really put a pause on my plan and though eating areas are slowly opening now, I still try to social-distance to protect our community. Voxman is one of my favorite study spots that is not a coffee shop. I sometimes study there with my friends and I found out that I always get the most work done there. I appreciate all art forms so knowing I'm surrounded by music students motivates me. Sometimes, I can hear a piano tune from one of the private rooms and that just makes my day.

How have you been doing with the Covid pandemic? Did you employ any coping strategies?

It would be a lie to say the pandemic did not affect me. I was struggling at the beginning and my mental health declined. Even now, it is still difficult to juggle so much at the same time. I have been in touch with the University Counseling Service and they have been helpful; but aside from getting professional assistance from the university, creating my own routines/schedules is another way I cope with all the uncertainties that the pandemic brings. I am an anxious person, so I try to make time every morning before classes to make my coffee, organize my to-dos for the day or week, and relax as much as possible. "Feeling ready" to me is already half of the work, and to make myself feel that way, I become more intentional with my time. Knowing when I am free and what to do when I am free is a kind of grounding method. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your experience at the University of Iowa? 

These past two years are nothing like I expected. I mean, I could not have possibly predicted a pandemic. There have been many ups and downs, and somehow I have pushed through all of them. I came to the United States when I was 15 and moved from Virginia to Arkansas, and now I am here in Iowa. All of those years of constant adjustment left me with one piece of knowledge: people do make a difference. In Iowa, people make up the community I am a part of now and, from this community, I find my way to thrive. The people here at the University of Iowa have made my experiences valuable, and I am thrilled to discover what the next two years have in store for me.