College is a completely different world. Very typical, cliche statement, I know. So what happens when you go to experience this completely different world, but in a completely different country?
Science especially brings people together from all over, so I’ve had the great opportunity to learn from people of all corners of the globe. In addition to everyday interactions, I’ve done a parade of flags (a parade showcasing countries from around the world) and worked as a mentor for incoming international freshmen. Being able to witness all that these kids are doing has made me realize how completely amazing international students are no matter which school they travel to. Who else shows such dedication, prioritization, and sacrifice for their education, ambitions, and a brighter future?
I’m completely in awe of the students that fly across the world to live, learn, and work completely immersed in a foreign country all at the age of 17 or 18. It just blows my mind; they are so incredible. These students not only have to learn to live on their own like every other freshmen, but they have to do it in a culture they may not be very familiar with. They have to do everything in a second (or third) language yet they do it so well.
For real though, I’ve taken Spanish for seven years now and I’m still basically a few light years away from being fluent. And that’s Spanish from an English speaker, which really shouldn’t be that difficult. At least most people in major cities around the world speak English, so we can make it okay while traveling, studying abroad, or even attending school internationally.
In the U.S. though, it has to be exponentially more difficult if you aren’t a native (or similar level) English speaker. A 2001 Gallup poll shows that only about 26% of US adults can hold a conversation in a second language; that second language is Spanish, German, or French for the majority of those 26%. Not very representative right?
So, don’t ever worry about or apologize for not speaking a language perfectly. If you’re an international student in the U.S., we understand that English is very hard to learn. You’re super awesome for how far you’ve come; it’s so much more than most people have done and you will always have my respect for that. You learn best by 100% throwing yourself into something and you’ve definitely taken that plunge.
On the flip side, don’t ever, ever make fun of someone speaking broken English. It means they know at least one other language, which is impressive. You may not realize it, but making fun of one mispronunciation can completely tear down the confidence level someone has been building up. It’s hard to feel good enough about your language abilities to want to (or have to) practice it with native speakers in their home place. I’ve seen how hard it is to get some students to have a conversation with you because they’re so worried about saying something wrong.
Simple understanding makes a huge difference. Just taking the time to get to know someone really gives them the welcome and comfort they deserve. I’ve heard from many international students that they don’t really have native/local friends. We all need to reach out to each other! Like I said earlier, it’s hard to work up the confidence to introduce yourself to someone in your non-native language in a foreign country. Both sides, trust me, you can do it- you never know the amazing people you can meet!
The world is amazing. Appreciate its differences.
I’ve connected with people from Russia to Mexico, India to China. I’ve learned from backgrounds ranging from French to Japanese to Filipino to Saudi Arabian to German. I experience so many different cultures on a daily basis and it’s really cool to take a step back and actually acknowledge all of these influences playing a role in my education. I love to talk to these people and learn about where they come from, what their cultures are like. It gives me great joy to see their passion and excitement to share their home with me.
I’ll be honest- when I was looking at colleges, diversity was not a priority for me. I frequently discredited it. Now, having been at a public university for almost two years, I recognize how fortunate I am to be able to learn from and study alongside students and faculty different from myself and from each other. I’ve broken out of my little bubble and started seeing the world, both on my own and through the eyes of others.
Have an appreciation for the international students and faculty you’ve crossed paths with as well as those you haven’t. What we see is only scratching the surface. So here’s to connecting. Here’s to putting in the effort to learn. Here’s to mutual respect. And, overall, here’s to recognizing the world as one.
“Alone we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” -Helen Keller
~How have you gotten involved with the international office at your school?