By Rhea Arora
Elm Staff Writer
Let me tell you about a particular card game the international students played during our orientation:
The gist of it is that around 70 international students were divided into equal groups and each group was assigned a chronologically numbered table with a set of rules. The winner of the game was to move to a table of the next highest denomination, and the loser was supposed to move to the table with the next lowest denomination.
So, people were rotating. Before we moved, we were to memorize the sheet of rules on our original table so as not to forget when we moved to the next one. The game was to be played in total silence: no words, verbal or written; only hand gestures. The game began, and people started rotating.
Within five minutes of rotation there was confusion: tables started disagreeing (very silently) about the rules and the flow of the game stopped.
Each international guide then took a set of people from a certain number of tables to different locations to discuss the game. We were asked about what we thought of the game. People fired off about how their new table was playing incorrectly and then we were told that each table had a different set of rules for the same game, thus causing the confusion.
The game was a metaphor for adjusting to life in a different country, you’re familiar with one set of rules, but you’re in a new place where the customs are unfamiliar and you have to adjust.
It took something as simple as a card game for us to mentally prepare ourselves for all the confusion heading our way. We would have to learn the simplest of things like walking on the right side of the stairs or that “How are you?” is another way of saying “Hello” and that the person doesn’t actually want to engage in conversation.
The international students moved in four days before the rest of the campus did. We started with ice breakers, playing games to learn each other’s names, working in teams, playing “The Great Wind Blows,” Bingo, Scavenger Hunt, etc. I made friends with people from across the globe, from Bahrain to Australia.
We felt like we had been on campus for ages because everyone knew the same amount about the college and the USA as the rest of the student body. We never felt like we were from foreign countries because everyone else was, too. It felt normal to be different. Then came the rest of the campus.
During the four days that the international students, freshman and exchange, spent with each other, we got to know each other well.
In my opinion, other than the Peer Mentor program and the freshman icebreaker on the Green, the international students didn’t get much of an opportunity to mix with Americans like they did with the other internationals. This is probably why you might see most of the international students spending time with each other more than with their American peers.
The only common ground all the international students have with each other is the fact that they’re all from different countries. There’s barely a similarity in language (except in the case of the Chinese students), appearance, or customs. However, the reason why international students tend to stick together is because they’re more sensitive to each other than a “non-international” would be. This doesn’t mean that Americans students aren’t sensitive; they are, but probably not as quick to recognize the need for that sensitivity as a fellow international student is.
There was a play on the Dos and Don’ts of college by the Peer Mentors, and one scene depicted the communication gap between a group of Americans and international students. Each group thought the other was unapproachable and neither ended up making the first step to interact. While I know that it’s unfair to expect an American to take the first step in communicating with an international, I think at times it’s necessary because Americans are more at ease with their surroundings in an American college than an international is.
Washington College is a beautiful place. The Administration has gone above and beyond to help us with the transition into American society and college life. I have made brilliant American friends who teach me things each day (“dust bins” are called “trash cans,” you’re always supposed to wear shower slippers in the shower, a finger on your nose means “Not it” and that “Thirsty Thursday” has nothing to do with free drinks). Yet, sometimes I feel that I, like every other international student here, needs just a little bit of extra help until we’re truly settled in, and I have no doubt that we will get that extra help whenever we need it.
P.S.- Hodson, we would love some Indian food.