By Song My Hoang
Is Union actually a diverse campus? It is true that more than 40 countries are represented in the international student body. The statistics seem to reinforce this sense of cultural diversity. Perhaps the question is: How well do international students integrate themselves into the community?
I am one of many international students who came to the U.S. with the set purpose of immersing myself in American culture. International students have the opportunity to fully explore America — a new and foreign land. We simply don’t have a way to revert back to the comfort of our home. It is a true chance for us to understand the culture and, in return, exchange our own culture.
Yet this idealistic thought is only transient. We are faced with several barriers that prevent us from pursuing our initial aspiration.
Making new friends requires some degree of mutual interest. It is difficult to engage with others who do not share the same interests as you do. International and American students tend to develop different interests because they are exposed to different forms of entertainment. Therefore, there is a lack of connection that we have to overcome in order to develop real relationships with each other.
Occasionally, it is our varied range of fluency in English that hinders our ability to form relationships. It is challenging to interact in a language that we have not yet mastered. We cannot express ourselves, because we struggle to describe and communicate our thoughts in English. It is the combination of our fragmented sentences and foreign accents that make it hard for people to understand.
However, our inability to incorporate ourselves into the Union community surely stems from our attitude towards facing all these cultural hardships. In the beginning, we embark on the “honeymoon phase.” This is when we are excited about American culture and are eager to form new connections.
As time progresses, we are faced with failed encounters to assimilate into the Union community and inevitably hit the “frustration phase.”
We eventually reach a “stage of acceptance.” This stage determines our desire to become a part of American society or to be enclosed within our own culture.
Do international students at Union continue to maintain a sense of curiosity about American culture? Or do they decide that the extra effort is not worth it?
I find myself observing that international students tend to group with other international students. In particular, if there are a fair number of students from a particular nationality, these individuals are inclined to form their own clique.
Homesickness is an experience that international students deal with often. It is this longing for home that drives us to be near those who have the same experience.
It becomes problematic when these groups become too exclusive, though. I remember encountering an incident where I felt truly alienated. I was trying to socialize with a group of international students who were from the same nationality. Instead of conversing in English, they decided to speak to each other in their shared language. I did not understand a single word.
This mindset of exclusion is instigated by the desire to find a place of comfort and familiarity. When international students slip back into their niche, their perception of being in America is blurred.
Union believes that exposure to diverse backgrounds, perspectives and experiences is an integral part of a liberal arts education. The college aims to raise the number of international students. However, the college must remember that a number is just a number. It is important to focus on the attitudes of current international students. There is little cultural flow if the international and American student body is divided.
It is not the cultural or language barrier that impedes international students from embracing American society. It is the innate fear of pursuing unfamiliarity that discourages integration.
It is easy to fall back into what is known. True diversity at Union means that international students need to push past what is comfortable and persistently seek the unknown.