Students advocate for international education, explore history of democracy in Jefferson City

International Education Day at the Capitol

Jianyu Wang (at left), who is from China, and Animesh Panda (at right), from India, joined UMSL International Studies and Programs staff members for a trip to the Missouri State Capitol earlier this month. (Photos courtesy of Jennifer Amatya)

Animesh Panda has visited cities around the globe – in his home country of India, in New Zealand and now in the United States, where he is an exchange student at the University of Missouri–St. Louis this semester. Two weeks ago he checked one more destination off his list: Jefferson City, Missouri.

“I had been wanting to go there for a while, and International Education Day at the Capitol offered me the opportunity,” said Panda, who is pursuing his master’s degree in business administration from Auckland University of Technology. “Learning about the history of Missouri was an enriching experience, and witnessing the House of Representatives in action was another highlight of the day.”

He and fellow UMSL scholar Jianyu Wang were two of about 300 international students statewide who gathered in Missouri’s capital city April 11 to explore the region’s history and politics – and to send a message to lawmakers.

“It was a great way to teach international students about our political processes as well as a reminder to our legislature of the big impact that these students play in our local economy,” said Jennifer Amatya, who works in International Studies and Programs at UMSL and accompanied Panda and Wang on the trip alongside fellow staff member Gabriela Renteria-Poepsel.

The event was organized by Study Missouri, which advocates at the state level for the importance of study-abroad opportunities and for the recruitment of international students to Missouri.

Capitol Selvesies

International student adviser Jennifer Amatya (lower left) described the April 11 trip as “a great way to teach international students about our political processes and a reminder to our legislature of the big impact that international students play in our local economy.” Fellow staff member Gabriela Renteria-Poepsel (lower right), who came to the U.S. from Mexico as an international student herself several years ago, also accompanied the students.

Wang, who hails from China, is in his first year of study at UMSL toward a PhD in computer science. He said the trip to Jefferson City made him even more enthusiastic about his decision to spend several years in St. Louis.

“Jennifer and Gabriela are both very kind and knowledgeable, and during the trip they shared their experiences of living in Missouri and introduced American culture to us from different perspectives,” Wang said. “We were also treated to a friendly and happy lunch and got to make friends with international students from all over the world.”

Representing about 50 countries in total, the attendees got to tour both the Missouri Senate and the House of Representatives, where legislators were debating policy during the students’ visit.

“I could feel the power of democracy,” Wang said of the experience.

For Panda, the day trip was yet another memorable aspect of the short but impactful few months he is spending in the U.S.

“My experience at UMSL has been an exhilarating one,” he said. “I’ve met very enthusiastic people and made friends for life. I’m so glad I decided to come to UMSL.”

Staff members including Amatya and Renteria-Poepsel have helped make that experience such a positive one, according to both Panda and Wang. They’ve gone beyond organizing campus activities and assisting with questions and paperwork to fostering a welcoming environment for the newcomers.

In March, Amatya traveled to Washington D.C. to represent UMSL at Advocacy Day, an opportunity for international education professionals to lobby Congress on behalf of international students. She and others gathered data to show the economic impact international students bring to the U.S. as well as what Amatya describes as the “social diplomacy” that occurs at a grassroots level when students from around the world interact in a classroom.

“I’ve worked in international education for almost seven years, and I’ve seen so many Missouri students touched by international students in profound ways,” said Amatya, who earned her master’s degree in public policy administration from UMSL in 2013. “I’ve seen strong friendships formed and difficult conversations had about religion, culture, politics and more.”

Amatya added that another focus of the D.C. efforts was sharing the stories of international students who may be impacted by state and federal policy shifts related to immigration. She met with staffers for both of Missouri’s U.S. senators during that trip.

“There is concern about what the future holds, and some of our international students wonder whether or not they will continue to be welcome here,” Amatya said. “Since I represent students who do not have votes in our political process, I think it is extra important to speak up on their behalf.”

The UMSL Experience


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