Think about all of the things you own: your books, clothes, posters, electronics, anything and everything you need for four years of college. Now imagine packing all of that and more into two suitcases and flying to a new country.
Think about the language you grew up with- the language that gave you directions for how to navigate the world, the language that helped you formulate thoughts and interpret the people, places, and things around you, the language that offered you the words to describe your fondest memories, the people you love the most, your deepest emotions and most profound thoughts. Now forget that language and learn an entirely new one with words that will never translate perfectly.
Imagine leaving behind the cultural traditions you share with your closest friends and family, the rituals and celebrations that bring you joy. Be sure not to think too hard about your loved ones, because you won’t be able to visit them unless you have a valid visa and thousands of dollars for a flight back home.
Would you do it? Could you do it?
International students in the United States are faced with a set of challenges that many domestic students are completely unaware of, and it’s time for the Temple student body to start paying more attention to the over 3,000 international students on our campus.
Research has shown that international students are often marginalized on American campuses. University of Arizona Professor Jenny J. Lee conducted a study with 24 international students, and found that Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern students reported “considerable discrimination” both on and off-campus. Just as alarmingly, a study in the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication found that 40% of international students report having no close American friends.
Even for international students who have befriended domestic students, adjusting to the United States can still be a challenging process. “Coming to America, it’s a bit harder at first because I spent freshman year adjusting to the new environment ( academia and culture ) more than socializing,” said Mai Do, a junior from Hanoi, Vietnam.
Making an effort to get to know international students can make a big difference during this long and often challenging adjustment period. It can also have huge benefits for domestic students.
International students, who hail from distinct cultures with different values and customs, are a wealth of firsthand knowledge about the world that rival the thousands of stacks of books in our libraries. Spending an hour, a day, or taking the time to befriend an international student will leave you with a dazzling new perspective. It’s like studying abroad, except right here on campus.
Still, it’s important to be culturally aware when getting to know international students. Keep in mind that for international students and for the majority of people without U.S. passports, traveling is a source of extreme anxiety, especially as airports and Western governments increasingly profile non-citizens. Understand that being able to attend a university in the United States is not easy for international students, and that many who come here don’t spend their time at parties because they’re intent on studying enough to pass all their exams, not to mention in a different language than they’re used to, in order to secure a job here upon graduation.
And most importantly, understand that many international students are forced to keep a low profile for fear of what would happen if they were caught at a political rally, caught underage drinking, or doing anything that could otherwise be considered grounds for removal. The consequences would not be the same for a domestic student, and we must identify and understand the double standard we actively impose on international students.
Even more troubling is the pressure to assimilate to American culture in order to feel safe and socially accepted.
So, take a moment and ask yourself: What have you done to make international students feel welcome on Temple’s campus? How many international student friends do you have? How many conversations have you had with an international student about their home country?
The good news is that there are many ways to make international students feel welcome here on campus.
You may want to consider attending meetings or events held by international student organizations, such as the International Student Association, Temple Arab Student Society, United Muslim Relief, Temple Asian Students Association, Experience Puerto Rico or our very own Freely Magazine, just to name a few.
If you are a member of a student organization, you could consider recruiting international talent to your organization.
Most importantly, be open to getting to know international students in your classes and around campus. Inviting an international student to join a club, go out to the movies, or share a meal is actionable, and can go a long way.
Open your mind and your heart to international students, and you’ll find a friend in them, if you allow them to find a friend in you.