The International Studies Club, GAIA (Global Awareness and International Affairs), has filled a need on campus.
“We want to have space where international and domestic students can connect. That place is GAIA,” says GAIA president Andrew Marca, a Middle Eastern studies student who also studies Arabic and business.
The primary goal of the club is to bring cultural awareness to CSU by welcoming and engaging with the international community on campus and in Fort Collins.
“As a club, GAIA allows International Studies to provide global experiences to the CSU and Fort Collins community, ultimately enhancing global awareness without international travel,” says Andrea Williams, Director of International Studies.
As a part of the International Studies major, GAIA members gain critical thinking skills and learn to appreciate varying perspectives. Students also gain exposure to different cultures and ways of life, preparing them to work in a multitude of careers.
Through an interdisciplinary approach to the program, International Studies students also gain experience learning about culture through interpersonal connections. As a club, GAIA centers their events around dialogue between cultures and elevates voices that aren’t always heard.
“At our events, especially during the Culture Cafes, the international students feel like they have a place that they can go and share a part of who they are. And domestic students have a place to learn about other cultures,” Marca says.
The Culture Cafe is GAIA’s weekly event that brings students and community members from various culture together for discussion. Participants rotate tables every 15 minutes and answer questions about their culture. Attendees also have the opportunity to ask questions about other people’s cultures and backgrounds.
“In Fort Collins, we are in the middle of the country. That makes it easy for us to ignore culture and diversity issues,” Williams says. “But I think it’s vital that we address those issues and are aware that we live in a multicultural community. It’s easy for us not to see it, but that’s because we’re not looking.”
When Marca became involved in the club, he was also volunteering at the Islamic Center of Fort Collins. He knew there was a need in Fort Collins to have a space where people from different cultures could come together in a neutral space.
Combining his experiences at the Islamic Center and in GAIA, Marca decided to establish Culture Cafe, events that bring people from all different background together for casual conversation.
GAIA offers opportunities for students from all majors to learn about cross-cultural communication and learn about other places in the world without having to leave the country.
“When you participate in a conversation with someone from a different culture, you’re on the edge of your culture’s little island,” says Brandon Reimers, club member and Latin American Studies and Spanish language and history major. “You have to be comfortable getting feedback or fielding hard questions about your way of life.”
Reimers will take over as president of the club in fall 2017, and is looking forward to connecting an array of student organizations on campus.
“Global awareness: that’s the idea that I’m going to push next year. We need to be a globally aware university.” Reimers says. “There needs to be an initiative by people from the United States to change the culture in the United States so that we are more welcoming to people from different cultures.”
Learn more about the International Studies major.
Follow GAIA on Facebook.