Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in “Unveiling UT,” a series in which The Horn spotlights the organizations which make the UT community unique. The third organization we will feature is University Democrats. You can read the other installments in the series here , here, and here. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Amber: Can you start by introducing yourself to our readers? Who are you and what is your role in Planet Longhorn?
Chris: My name is Chris. I am a senior marketing major and I’m the Director of Philanthropy for Planet Longhorn. My role is mainly organizing volunteer and community service events for our members. We usually collaborate with nonprofit organizations other UT organizations, and just do stuff out in the environment.
Amber: So what is Planet Longhorn and what is its core purpose?
Chris: Planet Longhorn is a social cultural organization. Our whole purpose is to make the world a smaller place. Just to connect international foreign exchange and local students at UT Austin. That’s a professional way to describe us, but realistically, we’re just an org that does fun things for anyone.
Amber: Can you elaborate on some events that happen with your club?
Chris: My philanthropy events are only a small portion. We also have a lot of social and cultural excursions where we go eat out at local places, and we go to parks like Zilker and Mount Bounnell to introduce our international body to Austin and Texas in general. We also have professional organization parties, where we rent out a bar on Sixth Street, or like somewhere in West Campus.
Amber: How often does your club meet?
Chris: We meet every week on Wednesdays 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the UTC. We have our own room that we have reserved the whole year. Those meetings usually consist of icebreakers where we just talk and hang out, upcoming announcements for events, and the main attraction is our cultural presentations where any of our members can sign up and present about their countries.
Amber: Can you elaborate on that?
Chris: We talk about the history of your country, personal favorite places to go, and things you could do. We talk about the food of the country, and language, like slang. We sometimes do some curse words to be fun because we’re all adults. If possible, we’ll go eat somewhere and usually we’ll also have pizza catered. Our business relations officer has had partnerships with a local startup for drinks. And we just got a catering partnership with Roppolo’s pizza, which has been really cool. But that’s usually how the procedures are. The rest of the members start clamoring to present because it’s so fun.
Amber: What are some of the different countries represented at your club?
Chris: Oh man, we have 70+ countries represented and it’s always updated each semester. Highlighted countries would be Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Spanish-speaking countries are really big. We always have a lot of Korea and China, and this semester we have a lot of Japanese exchange students, which is really cool. We also get Germany, London, and Australia.
Amber: Can you speak to some potential social challenges for international students attending the University of Texas for the first time?
Chris: I’d say one big obstacle they face is just getting to know the culture of America,Texas and Austin. Austin has a very distinct environment that might be hard for international students to work their way around. So international students usually ask in group chats “Is it right for me to do this?”. Stuff as simple as ordering food. It’s different from where they’re from.But even though that’s an obstacle, they have access to a very comfortable community, where they can ask questions, and anyone can help them out.
Amber: Let’s talk about the background of Planet Longhorn. How was it created?
Chris: It was founded by a group of students who were very passionate about the international body. We had an official international department at UT, but there was not really a social or casual side, so these students founded it. Every semester the presidency is handed down. Usually, our officers are elected by like votes. It’s a professional structure, but it was founded because they wanted to have a more fun, more casual side, representing UT.
Amber: How does community service impact your mission with Planet Longhorn?
Chris: It definitely shows that Planet Longhorn is not just for parties. You know, we had a bad reputation in the past for just having crazy raves or parties. No one parties harder than these international kids. So we’re trying to show that we also have a professional side where we want to go help the community. And we’re trying to show our international kids that us Texans, us Austinites, can do some good in the community as well as show the college community that our international body also cares about the environment, which is a factor that anyone, no matter who you are, can get behind.
Amber: What is the most challenging and the most rewarding thing about helping run a club like Planet Longhorn?
Chris: Okay, most challenging thing is definitely remembering people’s names. Hands down. I’m really bad with names.. But most rewarding thing is getting feedback from our members. Because honestlyI’m sure they could see some of the work we put in but a lot of it is behind the curtains and just out of sight. And we’ll hear members complain our party’s it wasn’t that good, or the speaker’s blew out or something. But we also get a fair share of both members and non members who just become part of our community and show up to even the small events with a smile on their face thanking us for the work we do.
Amber: Do you have to be an international student to join Planet Longhorn?
Chris: Most definitely not. I was born in California, lived in Korea for a bit and grew up in Dallas, but we’re open to all types of students. Our body is made up of 33% international, 33% foreign exchange, meaning that they’re here for the semester, and then 33% local. It’s supposed to be a good spread so we can all connect with each other. Us locals can have connections overseas and vice versa. Anyone can be a member to join. Usually joining us in your better interest because a membership gets you free food and drinks at our meetings, discounts on our major ticketed events, and alcohol at our parties if you’re over 21.Our dues are usually $25 but right now they’re $35 to match inflation and higher quality events but in general are dues are really cheap compared to other orgs.
Amber: Where do you see Planet Longhorn in the next four to five years?
Chris: I’ve been on the office board for the past two semesters. Our positions are a semester long, so it rotates really fast, and from my time in Planet Longhorn as both a member and officer, I’ve seen a lot of growth. Our new president and vice president have a great vision for the brand of our org. They’re trying to make Planet Longhorn more professional, where in the past we’ve just been like a more casual, chill, fun organization. I like what they’re doing. I can see Planet Longhorn becoming more popular — we’re already \ well known but even more, even bigger.
Amber: Where can students find out more information about Planet Longhorn?
Chris: They could check us out on Instagram @planet.longhorn. In the instagram there are links to our GroupMe and Whatsapp group chats. And that’s where you’ll find the most updated announcements for our events and pictures of all the stuff we do. We have a Google Drive of all the pictures we take at our events and members can go into Google Drive and find pictures that they like of their friends. If there is something they don’t like they can just request for it to be taken down. Our Instagram is the best way.
Amber: Is there anything else you would like students to know about Planet Longhorn?
Chris: Planet Longhorn, it’s really big. And I just want students to know that we really care. For all the officers on our team, I’ve never met a group more genuine that just really wants our student body to have fun and get to know each other. I just want the students out there to know everyone should be in Planet Longhorn in an ideal world.
Amber: Well thank you for your time, Chris. I look forward to seeing where Planet Longhorn will go from here.