One of the least discussed problems at UC Davis is the under representation, both politically and in popular awareness, of the international student population.
They currently represent around 2,500 students or almost 10 percent of the student population, yet at times they seem almost non-represented. More should be done.
For the international students, there are multiple, significant barriers. At once there are linguistic, lifestyle and cultural challenges.
The language problem consists of the difficulty comprehending the unique style and reaction of a native speaker. For locals, phrases like “hella,” “tight” and “what’s up?” permeate daily speech. To the international student, schooled and versed more in the academic art of English conversation, this novelty can be as disorienting as it can be disheartening.
Then there are lifestyle issues. The average UC Davis student’s immediate interest lies at their place in and contributions to society. Hence what motivates them are the events that directly affect their lives – the success of the local Sharks team, Colbert’s latest parody, the policy suggestions of President Obama. Their activities also differ fundamentally: Alcohol and outdoor hikes are local ways of life. Even in sports – the great equalizer of human aspirations – the most universally popular sport of all, soccer, is relegated to a position behind the Red Sox, the Lakers and the Raiders.
For the foreigner, the differences in shared experiences often prevent active emotional connection. Mutual engagement is undoubtedly possible, but it requires great effort to learning. For some, the demands of adapting an entirely new lifestyle can be hugely demoralizing.
The final challenge is cultural. America’s openness to intimate human relations and contact is commonplace, and rightly so. Thanks to the 1970s sexual revolution and subsequent liberal attitudes toward natural human desires, gender separation is virtually nonexistent. For those from more conservative nations, this can be shocking and daunting. It challenges a lifetime’s conception of morality and tradition.
The confluence of these factors, to an international student, often hinders individual growth and professional development. In a way, this consequence is somewhat inevitable as it is natural.
And in the long-term, the broader, underlying problem can manifest both voluntary and involuntary segregation. Failure to become involved locally pushes some to support groups, including peer counseling, nationality-based networks and CAPS. An inability to integrate can also lead to loneliness, depression, withdrawal and, in extreme cases, suicide. For many, this experience then emerges as a story of unfulfilled potential and missed opportunity.
What can be done? Presently, the Services for International Students and Scholars, with their numerous cultural events, functions and workshops, attempts to assist with the international students‘ numerous needs and integration.
But more can be done at a local level to provide the integral emotional and linguistic support. For the international student, reaching out is both a function of individual resilience and external approval. Individual resilience entails a personal willingness to learn and a dedication to thrive in a culture that is foreign and alien. Meanwhile, external approval embodies our collective responses to those who, at times, are confounded by what for us seems natural. A patient understanding and acceptance of those unfamiliar with localities can greatly inspire.
An establishment of a position in the student government, specifically focusing on certain aspects, is also necessary and pivotal. This guarantees an opportunity for active political representation, especially with regards to numerous welfare and personal needs.
The challenges confronting an international student are diverse and, at times, dispiriting. More can and should be done to address this.
After all, living far away from home is both an opportunity for crisis or achievement.
ZACH HAN salutes those who come from afar to learn and achieve, and sends his regards from firstname.lastname@example.org.