Columns, Opinion

NADEL: International students should be more appreciated

According to a U.S. News and World Report study for the 2014-15 academic year, 19 percent of Boston University’s students were international in the past academic year. In the fall 2015 semester, BU’s International Students and Scholar’s Office reported that there were 3,328 undergraduate international students.

Studying abroad as an international student directly enrolled in a university has brought me to two realizations: international students are highly accepted and respected here, and this is not the case at Boston University.

Before you say, “Wait! I have an international friend,” hear me out. Yes, most of us do have international friends. My college experience would not be as great without one of my closest friends, Hadi, from Saudi Arabia. He still gives me advice like he used to during late nights in the Warren Towers common room, and I am forever grateful for that.

I love being able to say that because of Boston University, I have a friend from Saudi Arabia. But reflecting on whom I consider my inner circle of friends, with the exception of Hadi, most are from the East Coast like me. I’m ashamed to say that the reason my friendship with Hadi developed so easily was because his English is better than mine, and I didn’t have to struggle with any language barrier.

It’s pretty much the norm here to post on a Facebook page for Universidad San Francisco de Quito international students, inviting everyone out to celebrate your birthday at a nightclub. Also, the university (on a voluntary basis) pairs you up with other “Ecuabuddies” at the start of the semester, so you have automatic friend base when you arrive.

There is no absence of a fascination factor with other cultures among the students here, leading them to be extremely welcoming and accommodating to international students.

Ecuadorian students ask you everything you know about the presidential election in the United States, and most of the time, they know more than the average American. Everyone is learning multiple languages here, and they jump on any opportunity to brush up on their English with a native speaker.

Because Ecuadorians are some of the most inclusive people on the planet (this is a fact), it made me reflect on how I and other BU students treat our international students. It depends on what circle you run in, but I think it’s pretty unlikely to invite a group of them out to lunch or to a birthday party the first day you all meet.

Being an international student is exhausting. To have a language barrier, be unfamiliar with your new home and not understand cultural norms is one thing. It’s another to not feel accepted immediately in a foreign place and still be expected to function and perform in society. I couldn’t even imagine how that must feel.

To clarify, I’m not saying all Boston University students treat international students poorly. What I am saying is, from my observations, we tend to generalize them according to the country they’re from and their cultural stereotypes. It’s pretty rare that we actually take the time to get to know them, hence why I truly only feel close to one international student.

We see them speeding down Commonwealth Avenue in their new Maseratis, and we write them off immediately. We read and watch the news and think we know everything we need to know about a given culture. We don’t take the time to strike up conversations because the language barrier is too frustrating and we don’t have time in our busy schedules.

We should appreciate international students for everything they do to be in the same place as us, and we should recognize our inherent position of power we have simply by being born in the United States.

Instead of boasting that yes, 19 percent of BU’s students are international and we have high levels of diversity, we should utilize this diversity. We have so much to learn from international students, and many of us may never be surrounded by this amount of diversity again in our lives. If you don’t make a lifelong friend by speaking with an international student, you at least learn about another culture firsthand.

So if you can relate to anything I wrote before, I have a few parting reminders. Appreciate the courage it takes to be an international student, broaden your close-knit friend group and use the resources you have on campus to learn about other cultures, because I’m sure they will be happy to help.

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