Last week, a group of international students sent a letter that detailed their difficulties with integration and expressed disappointment with the community’s lack of support.
As the number of international students grows on campus, so does the importance of this issue. Currently, we host over 2,000 international students, with the 2020 Initiative intending to bring in thousands more in the coming years. For Fall 2013, UC Davis received 6,747 freshman applications from internationals — a 65 percent increase from the previous year.
Members of the editorial board have studied abroad and are preparing to study abroad in the near future. We understand the importance and allure of global education. And more than that, we understand what it’s like to drop everything you know, immerse yourself in a foreign country with bizarre customs and suddenly find that you can’t communicate as well as you thought you could.
It’s what we, as internationally-minded students, sign up for. As sad as it is to read that our foreign comrades feel disconnected, we also know from experience that it’s a shared burden. International students at UC Davis need to put in a lot of effort if they want to learn about the American way of life, improve their English and make local friends. They need to embrace the discomfort and throw themselves into as many new situations as possible. They need to say “yes” to opportunities that might make them cringe and, probably, experience a fair amount of rejection.
This is not as easy as it sounds. And we know that American students could be more helpful. It’s a strange “us versus them” mentality, where, stereotypically, groups of international students sit together in class and speak foreign languages while groups of American students dissect the season premiere of “Mad Men.” This separation is alienating and unfortunately self-perpetuating. Students on both sides need to make the conscious effort to cross the room and strike up awkward conversation.
There are a lot of resources on campus and in the City of Davis for international students, as well as for locals looking to mingle. These resources are difficult to find though — they aren’t publicized and there doesn’t appear to be a single web page that lists them. Instead, students are running around in circles looking at websites for Services for International Students and Scholars (SISS), University Outreach and International Programs (UOIP), UC Davis Global Ambassadors, the Partners in Acquiring Language (PAL) program, the International House, Club International and a vague International Students UC Davis student portal.
Even though Club International claims over 500 American and non-American members on Facebook, some complain that it’s really only international students hanging out with one another. Meanwhile, the university doesn’t facilitate any way for international and local students to live together. Other schools have thriving programs for this, whether it’s merely matching students who then arrange off-campus housing together or it’s an International House with residency options. We can’t think of any good excuse as to why — when there are many ethnic-themed floors — the dorms can’t offer an International Floor.
Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi was an international student at UCLA. She knows the challenges international students face. She should be making sure that the university isn’t merely recruiting more and more international students for their money — $36,780 in student fees next year compared to $13,902 for residents — but is actively working with them to make UC Davis the global campus that administrators claim it is.