The Life of a Graduate Assistant

The Life of a Graduate Assistant

Office of International Student Affairs. From left to right: Me, Kevin (Coordinator), Gigi (Director)

Office of International Student Affairs. From left to right: Me, Kevin (Coordinator), Gigi (Director)

In contrast to my last two blog posts, I don’t have the privilege of traveling through Europe and East Africa in my everyday graduate student life.

My life is quite busy. I have classes twice a week combined with a 24-hour internship. In addition, I am working part-time on-campus to be able to finance my stay in Chicago. It is a nerve-wracking and tight schedule, far away from the freedom I had over my winter break. However, I enjoy all my positions, whether I’m being a student, an intern, or a graduate assistant.

To give some insight into how busy but rewarding the life of a DMT&C graduate student can be, my next three blog posts will describe my roles—starting with an introduction into the life of a graduate assistant at Columbia College Chicago.

The work a graduate assistant might look different depending on the area or office. The office that I am happy to call my workplace is the Office of International Student Affairs (OISA). OISA is part of Multicultural Affairs, a division of student affairs that exists to foster and support the intellectual, social and cultural development of all students, especially those from diverse cultural backgrounds and lifestyles. Offices within Multicultural Affairs include African-American Cultural Affairs, Asian American Cultural Affairs, Latino Cultural Affairs, LGBTQ Office of Culture and Community, and OISA.

Office of Multicultural Affairs, 618 S. Michigan Ave, 4th floor

Office of Multicultural Affairs, 618 S. Michigan Ave, 4th floor

What do we do? OISA exists to provide a nurturing and supportive living and learning environment for Columbia’s international student community through advocacy, services, programming and advertising. In short, we are the main administrative office for all international students currently studying at Columbia, or everyone interested in international topics. At the same time, we also provide a home away from home, because living in a different country and culture might bring some challenges.

Columbia currently has about 380 actively enrolled international students from 63 different countries. Of those, 47 are graduate students. We also serve many students who recently graduated (within the past 12 months) and are gaining work experiences in the U.S. while on a student visa associated with Columbia (called Optional Practical Training or Active Training). The office staff pretty much consists of three people: Gigi, the director of OISA, Kevin, our coordinator, and me, the graduate assistant (see top picture). That’s a lot of people for such a small office!

My current desk/ work area @ OISA. A little dark but comfy at the same time.

My current desk/work area at OISA. A little dark but comfy at the same time.

So what are some of my responsibilities? Overall, I try to cover the work that Gigi and Kevin do not have the time to do, or to ease their workload. I help coordinating, organizing, preparing and implementing events offered by OISA or in collaboration with other offices; schedule appointments for students who want to talk to Gigi (called counseling visits); take phone calls and give information while Gigi is not available; and compile, analyze and condense data about international student counseling visits or event evaluations.

In addition, I’m responsible for organizing, managing and forwarding documents and files of international students, such as immigration documents (I-20, I-94, copies of passport and visa), financial documents, tax documents and everything else they need to remain in good status.

Lastly, I am a contact person for all current and prospective international students. I respond to questions about studying at Columbia, living in Chicago and American culture.

Multipurpose studio @ OISA! Available to all Columbia students to hang out or offer workshops.

Multipurpose studio at OISA! Available to all Columbia students to hang out or offer workshops.

All this administrative work might sound boring, and you might wonder why a student in dance/movement therapy and counseling would pick such a job. Well, besides the obvious reason that I am an international student, there are several reasons for that.

The first one is that it offers some balance to my otherwise emotionally and physically exhausting graduate student life. I know exactly what my work will be like when I come in in the morning, and when I leave in the evening I know that I am done and do not have any homework to do.

Secondly, it offers the opportunity to interact with students from diverse cultural backgrounds. This does not just mean international students, but everyone who feels drawn to diversity and any office within Multicultural Affairs. Working with such a diverse group of students also requires multicultural awareness and a great deal of empathy, both characteristics essential for being a counselor or dance/movement therapist. I am able to use the skills that I learn during the program in an administrative setting.

Thirdly, a lot of times there is FREE FOOD! Who would say “no” to that?

And lastly, I love working in my awesome little team. The work might be stressful at times, especially at the beginning and end of the semester, but we always manage to bring some fun and excitement into our work.

So if you are interested in visiting our office and check out our space, you are more than welcome! We are located at 618 S. Michigan Ave on the 4th floor and are available from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday to Friday. You can also check out our website And remember, it is not just a space for international students, but for everyone with an interest in international topics and diversity!