International Student Cultural Separation at WC

By Katie Bedard
Elm Staff Writer

International students at Washington College seem to be facing more than just culture shock. With over 145 students coming in from more than 37 countries around the world, many find themselves barred from the social and academic life of non-international students.

While difficulty socializing isn’t the responsibility of the College, students should make more of an effort to get to know someone who comes from a different background.

Many students have noticed that other students who come in from a different country hang out more, or even exclusively, with other international students. This begs the question: What might prevent students from interacting with other students who don’t share the same background?

Not everyone faces the same problems when coming to WC. Some international students might have an easier time talking to and socializing with non-international students, while others might not talk to them at all.

The separation is from both a language and a cultural barrier.

“If there are a bunch of students from the same background, they will have the choice to only hang out with the people that share the same background,” said senior Xidan Zhang. “But when you can only find a few people who share the same culture as you, you need to make friends with other non-international students.”

Students from a country whose primary language isn’t English find it easier to converse with people who also speak their first language. Those students might not necessarily have a hard time socializing in English, but they prefer the familiarity of speaking the way they might to their parents or friends back home. It also goes without saying that if a student comes to WC and speaks a language that only they and a couple other students know, they will probably have to speak English more often.

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“I do feel more comfortable hanging out with international students, because, first of all, local students speak quite fast, sometimes it can be difficult to understand,” said senior Lu Guo. “Second, I think fellow international students are always the first group of students we meet when we first come here (because of international student orientation), and a lot of us just stick with these friends.”

In some cases, students might not even make a conscious choice when it comes to socializing with certain people. Making friends and talking to others is a two-way street. If non-international students don’t approach or make the effort to get to know international students, then it would make sense that there’s a divide. If a non-international student sees someone who doesn’t speak their language or appears to not be from America, they’re likely to treat that person differently.

Academically, classes that require group participation can also have non-international students asking to work with international students less. Part of this may come from intimidation, or even go back to the language barrier. For students all over campus, it’s easier to just talk to and work with people from similar cultures.

Keeping up a divide in the College is not the best thing. When a student comes to WC, they deserve an equal education. Some would argue that the social aspect is not a part of that, but socializing is a key part of the WC experience. Students should have the same opportunities to grow at WC, regardless of their cultural background.

Just because someone speaks a different language than you does not mean they’re not worth talking to. Moving forward, students should push past this cultural barrier by reaching out to students they would have never talked to before. This could include going to different international events on campus, or simply starting a conversation with someone with whom they share a class. By doing so, students may find that they have more in common with each other than they thought.

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