Question of the Week: Do International Students Fit in With American Classmates?

This week’s Question of the Week was about diversity on campus. As an international student, you may have a different skin color, different religion or different socio-economic background than many of the Americans you’re at school with. At the very least, you’ll probably have a different accent. How will that affect where you fit in amongst your classmates?

Here are some of your stories:

Tara Cheng:

“…it’s just way too easy to find people speaking the same language as you”

Los Angeles has a large Asian community, and the good branding of California’s schools in Asia attracts large amounts of Asian students to come to USC [the University of Southern California]. When I was working on my final papers in the library, I felt like I was back in China, because most people around me were talking in Chinese. If you go to the engineering school at USC you almost have no chance to meet American students, because that school is dominated by Chinese and Indian students. Sometimes, I am even curious if Americans at USC think of themselves as the minority on campus.

USC is well known for having a lot of international students. One result is that students usually hang out with people of the same ethnicity, because it is just way too easy to find people speaking the same language as you. Additionally, the culture differences between Asia and America is bigger than I expected – generally, I do not think people gathering together just drink is fun, and from my personal perspective, I do have much interest to join the so called American parties.

Sebastian Sanchez:

“…even though KU is not the most diverse, it is proudly international enough”

Statistically, the University of Kansas is not as diverse as other big schools in the US. However I find this statistic information tricky, especially when I walk in one of the international offices and I see how many people work there to help students from around the world. I’m proud to say I have befriended people of around fifteen different countries, something that would have been really difficult back in Bolivia. Overall I would say that colleges in the States are far more diverse than in Bolivia, and even though KU is not the most diverse, it is proudly international enough.

[Read Roua’s post on meeting students from all over the world at Michigan State]

Nareg Seferian:

“It can be difficult to see eye-to-eye at times alright, but it’s never uninteresting”

I study at a small liberal arts college, which is very unique in its structure and curriculum, definitely unconventional by the norms of education in America today. Consequently, it is not well known and does not attract a wide range of students because of its name alone. It cannot afford huge scholarships to encourage a variety of students to apply either. Even though most in the student body and faculty are from a regular white, American background, minorities are represented, and certainly the number of international students has risen over the past few years as well. In socio-economic terms there is a diversity of backgrounds, which, even if it isn’t terribly rich, the college’s financial aid practices try to maintain.

Those who have heard of St. John’s College apply for very special reasons. The term we like to use is “self-selection.” If you appreciate this sort of “classical,” “Renaissance” education, then the college would be the kind of place you’d like to apply, perhaps the only kind of place. As a result, the diversity at St. John’s is more in terms of the intellect and personalities of our students and faculty. We have very idiosyncratic, unique individuals who end up at our college. It can be difficult to see eye-to-eye at times alright, but it’s never uninteresting.

Senzeni Mpofu:

“I immediately befriended fellow heavily accented freshmen from Africa and stuck by them”

Prior to my departure from Zimbabwe, I had braced myself for the worst type of racism one can ever experience. The tales of woe that some returning students shared fueled my fears: One student confessed that no one wanted to share a seat with her on the bus simply because she was black. Another told me about her biology professor, an openly racist man who would laud praise on her white research partner for an experiment that they had done together. The list goes on, with each story more mortifying than the last.

As a result, I arrived at Yale University full of apprehension. I immediately befriended fellow heavily accented freshmen from Africa and stuck by them. After all, we were going to go through the same ordeal together.

[Read Senzeni’s full post on expecting racism in America]

Jaime Bellemare:

“I remember one moment in particular when I was sitting in class waiting for the professor to start and around me 5 different conversations in 5 different languages were taking place”

Syracuse University has a fairly diverse campus. Our campus website says that “minority students represent 22% of the total student population,” and there are student groups for almost every ethnicity. It’s a bit different than where I grew up in suburban Connecticut, where roughly 97% of the town population was white. From elementary to high school, I was able to count the number of students of color on one hand.


White Student Union flier

Studentactivism.net discusses a recent controversy at West Chester University over fliers advertising a “White Student Union.” It is common for U.S. colleges to have student groups for minorities or international students, which will typically sponsor cultural events on campus. Students sometimes bring up the idea of a White Student Union as a protest against the self-segregation of minorities within these student groups. In this case, Studentactivism.net reports that the group responsible intended to draw anti-racists together.

Despite its diversity, however, I can’t help but realize the divisions that still exist on SU’s campus by race, socio-economic status, and even sexual orientation. I didn’t know until recently that Syracuse is rated number 20 on The Princeton Review’s list of schools with little race and class interaction, but when I think about this I realize how accurate it is. For the most part, Korean students socialize with other Korean students, black students socialize with other black students, white students socialize with other white students, etc. Sure, this is an over-generalization, but it is still quite clear that for the most part SU is racially and economically divided.

Syracuse is also known for its LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) student population, with a campus climate score of five out of five for its LGBTQ-friendly policies.  As part of the LGBTQ community, I am quite familiar with SU’s “No Place for Hate” policies, but I am also acutely aware that more than one of my friends has been physically or verbally assaulted for their sexual identity. And outside of the LGBTQ community, my own sexuality has been scrutinized.

I find it interesting that diversity levels are different within each of the professional schools here. For example, I am in the College of Arts and Science with a major in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, and I am also in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. In Maxwell, most of my classes are racially and culturally diverse. I remember one moment in particular when I was sitting in class waiting for the professor to start and around me 5 different conversations in 5 different languages were taking place. In Newhouse on the other hand, I can’t remember being in class with more than 5 people of color in total for the 3 years I have been here at SU.

One of my professors recently told me that Newhouse is predominately white because the students of color who perform well enough to get accepted also get accepted into Ivy League schools. I couldn’t help but laugh at that statement.

Bonus Video: MBA student Vishal talks about how international students fit in at business school (by mbastories)

6 comments

  1. The question is irrelevant to the colleges you attend, so you know. American colleges market to international students because they can aquire revenue from you guys without having to rely on federally subsidized funding of American citizens. Some, like a college in Kansas, even encourage international students to break federal immigration law to attend school! And get sued as a result.
    I think it should be much, much harder for international students to attend our best schools and more slots should be available for American citizens. The educated of our country need to come from and return to our country. This can’t happen soon enough.

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