New International Student Council President speaks
The International Center is busy lately, with students of many countries coming in and out. Some are sitting on the couch watching coverage of the tsunami disaster in Japan. Others are studying. Some are just talking, eating and enjoying each other’s company.
This is just the way Dinar Kunakaev, the newly elected International Student Council president, likes it. “We have about 600 international students here at UVU,” Kunakaev said. “The International Center is such a great way to get involved, and we are like a family.” Kunakaev has always felt this way about international student programs. He moved from Ufa, Russia to Utah to attend Snow College in 2006 when he was only 16. His first year, he couldn’t take many classes because he didn’t understand enough English.
“When I got here, I was just a level two English speaker. I basically had to start from the beginning,” he said. His rough transition to the U.S. was smoothed by his involvement in the international center at Snow. He volunteered with activities they put on and soon got to know everyone by name. This is when his passion for helping international students adapt to their new life began.
After learning English the first year, he spent the next two earning his associate’s degree. When he graduated from Snow College in 2009, he moved to Orem to attend Utah Valley University. He carried his passion with him.
“I started volunteering right away. I started here in August  and I met the International Council in September,” Kunakaev said. “It was such a great way to meet people and be a part of the family here.”
After spending that first semester as a volunteer, he was asked if he would like to be a member of the International Council. He agreed. The next year, current president Chris Chileshe decided to form the council into regions: Africa, the Americas, Europe, Middle East, North Asia and South Asia. Kunakaev, who won’t officially be president until the summer, is currently serving as the Vice President of the European representatives.
His primary concern for international students going into the next school year is the situation with UTA bus passes. Because most international students can’t get a driver’s license, much less a car, UTA’s price hike is especially disconcerting to them.
“For international students, the bus pass isn’t just for coming to school. It’s for buying groceries, going shopping or even going to a movie…so bus passes is going to be a big deal. We have a committee working on it right now.”
He explained that the committee is working on a proposal that will charge a $50 fee to international students. The money from that fee will be pulled together in one large fund. The council then will take that fund and present it to UTA directly and try to negotiate a lower price for the international students.
Another concern that Kunakaev has is that many international students lack health insurance. He estimates that less than 5 percent are insured. Although most schools in Utah require that students have insurance as well as provide a cheap insurance plan, UVU does neither.
He plans on proposing that the school make insurance mandatory for international students. He also wants to find a way to find an insurance plan that will provide comprehensive coverage locally.
Because of transportation difficulties, it is essential for international students to have health providers that are close by.