Making a Foreign Country Feel Like Home
Lester Ng ‘93 contributes to the BioSci International Students Program (ISP) to help foreign students thrive in the U.S.
Lester Ng (‘93) clearly remembers the challenges of studying abroad. While in law school, he found himself struggling to acclimate to the language and culture during a semester in Hong Kong.
“While the program was good educationally, basically the program dumped you in a foreign land and left you to fend for yourself,” Lester said. “When you’re on the other side of the planet, it can be very challenging trying to just figure out how to take care of your basic needs. It can exact a heavy toll on the student and leave quite an empty hole emotionally.”
The experience in Hong Kong left a lasting impact on him. When the time came to invest in making experiences better for students abroad, Lester looked homeward.
“Perhaps it was a chance event; perhaps it was fate,” Lester said. “I see out of the blue a message from UCI asking if I was thinking about charitable giving and if so, would I consider UCI.”
He picked up the phone and made a call to Roland Ho in the Office of Planned Giving. Lester agreed to take a campus tour.
“Roland not only gave me a thorough explanation of various options, but also ended up taking me down memory lane. I was thinking of what UCI did for me and how it helped shape my future.”
The tour made a stop at the School of Biological Sciences, where Lester started reflecting on the challenges of studying abroad with Carolyn Willman, the School’s Director of Student Affairs. That’s when he learned about the International Student Program, which offers an orientation program for students coming from outside the United States, a full-time international student advisor, and student peer advisors.
“I was very impressed that UCI was working hard to ensure that students studying here could spend their time studying, rather than expending time and energy just trying to find the necessities to survive,” he said.
Under the guidance of Sherry Ong, students from abroad are assisted from the moment that they are admitted. Students are helped through challenges ranging from the process of getting foreign schools to comply with UC Irvine’s final transcript policies to getting around campus. And though Sherry is officially an academic advisor, offering suggestions on building class schedules and helping shape research programs, she often finds herself talking students through moments that those raised in the United States would take for granted.
“I got a call a few days ago from a student who said her dishwasher was broken,” Ong said. “She said, ‘There are bubbles everywhere and I’m mopping them up!’ I asked her what kind of soap she used, and had to talk her through the problem that even though the dishwasher says it can be used with all dish detergents, the kind she uses in the sink can’t work in the dishwasher.”
Ong was raised in China and moved to the United States when she was ten years old. The experience she had acclimating to her new home and her own undergraduate experience at UC Irvine prove useful each day—nearly 80% of the School of Biological Sciences’ international students come from mainland China. She relays these experiences daily through email, the Chinese social networking program QQ, office visits and the occasional frantic phone call.
Lester was inspired by her efforts to make a $25,000 contribution for the advancement of the program, and has been working to bring ISP to the attention of friends, colleagues and fellow alumni. He is also developing a new type of relationship with UC Irvine—as a member of the donor community fully engaged with UCI staff.
“Here at UC Irvine, I find staff to be not only knowledgeable, but to be truly concerned with what is needed, both for the student body as well as the individual students,” he said. “UCI was one of the few places where I felt they were genuinely interested in not just providing service for their own benefit. Even when it seemed like I might not contribute, they went out of their way to help me.”
As his relationship develops with the School of Biological Sciences and UC Irvine, Lester says he sees a bright future for his alma mater.
“Should UCI continue to adapt to the new trends and overcome the challenges of the future, I believe it will be a true leader in not only research as they bring their concepts worldwide, but in educating the students to prepare them for moving society forward, worldwide,” he said.
Thanks to his support, students from around the world can quickly get to the work of moving society forward.
If you are interested in supporting Bio Sci student programs, please contact Andrew DiNuzzo.