Opinions – By Albert Nall and Abby N. Virio, Staff Writer and Opinions Editor
Left: International Students in UMSL – Photo by UMSL International Student & Scholar Services, The Current © 2015
Simply put, the life of an international student is not an easy one.
The difficulties that international students enrolled at colleges in the United States face includes numerous obstacles that inherently arise in a new nation and academic culture. Among the biggest challenges international students face are described by Katy Hopkins in an August 28, 2012 article featured in U.S. News & World Report. Many international students, Hopkins says, may not have written research papers in their native country. If that is not tough enough, wait until students find out that they are graded on class participation, which includes online classes. Additionally, in the U.S., classroom discourse involves a wide range of subject matter and requires everyone’s input, sometimes on topics such as American history or politics, which can be unfamiliar to an international student. What is more, when one is an exchange student, class participation often reinforces the social pecking order, which international students may feel low on due to struggles conversing with or relating to classmates of a different culture.
In relation, professors often become an extension of issues such as academic citation that foreign exchange students deal with as culture shock. In the U.S., students are expected to communicate on the same intellectual level as professors, while at the same time, being on a lower level of social rank and life experience. Hopkins’ post gave the example of general education requirements which, regardless of major, expose students to a wide variety of topics. This often bewilders international students who come from an education system which directs students on career paths from a younger age, just as it can bewilder American students who are not familiar with the concept of liberal education. Some exchange students, on the other hand, often make the rigor in American college life look easy by the emphasis their own country puts on learning about many cultures. Unfortunately, even when this is the case, exchange students are pressured to learn English while their American counterparts are often never exposed to aspects of other cultures. This can cause the biggest obstacle for exchange students—when their classmates cannot grasp the students’ traditions or customs in and outside of the classroom environment.
Another issue that Hopkins brought up involves making new friends on campus—very important for students adapting to American culture. Nowhere was this more evident than during the talent show sponsored by the International House that took place on April 17 at the Pilot House in the Millennium Student Center at the University of Missouri—St. Louis. The International House is a headquarters and residence for international student leaders which strives to help exchange students adjust and find a home within the UMSL community, combatting all the obstacles Hopkins relayed in her article. The students at this talent show introduced themselves and presented a taste of their culture. Many of the students were quite talented, and the audience fervently responded with waves of lighted candles. Alternatively, covers done of well-known Western artists such as Michael Bublė allowed international students to share their enthusiasm for Western culture and connect with American audience members. The experience left American students longing for more education about their peers’ cultures and traditions, inspiring mutual understanding and respect on all sides.
Hopkins’ article pointed out many of the obstacles which international students face, some of which can cause significant stress that tarnishes a student’s American experience. Happily, UMSL shows through the International House community that the university is dedicated to continually making the celebration of other cultures an integral part of campus life, as well as its mission to make exchange students feel at home in their new environment. Hopkins said that it is the general expectation on the part of exchange students that Americans should approach them, yet at the same time recommends that the exchange students make the first move. Hopefully, events such as the International House’s talent show will inspire both parties to reach out to each other and bridge this gap, leading to projects and informal gatherings which create the lifelong friendships students take with themselves, even as far as the other side of the globe.