What pops into your mind when you think of ‘international student’? Do you think of words like ‘culture’, ‘foreign affairs’, or is it something you’ve never explored? On Wednesday, September 11, I had the opportunity to sit down with a classmate of mine and discuss what it means to be an international student and how it has affected her experience as a college student. After our interview, I got to thinking and I asked myself, ‘are college-aged Americans becoming numb to outside culture due to increasing narcissism in media?’
According to The Institute of International Education, in the 2010-2011 academic school year there were upwards of 194,000 students from China, India, and Japan each in the United States. Other areas with a high number of students (ranging from 20,000-35,000) were Canada, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia. Although there are so many students from around the world in our universities, we have neglected to recognize the amount of culture and new knowledge these students bring to the table.
During my interview with Joann, I had the opportunity of finding out what it is like for an international student from Korea to integrate into American culture. After asking her what her experience has been like she replied, “it has been a learning experience”, but through it she has become “stronger in [her] ethnic identity” and what that means to her. In some ways, she said, “it feels like [she] is returning home” when she comes back to America.
I also had the privilege of talking with a friend who is a Missionary Kid from both Thailand and the Philippines. His view varied slightly from Joann’s. When asked how growing up outside of America and having to integrate into US culture was, he said, “growing up outside of the US has made me realize just how big this world is”. He went on to say that the “USA constitutes 5% of the entire world population”. When put into perspective, for those who have never traveled outside of the country, “[they] are inevitably experiencing that small portion of what the world has to offer”.
When asked how his integration into American culture has been, he responded, “tough” and, although “we live in the ‘land of the free’ there are so many restrictions on every day life”. He went on to give examples of the excess of passwords, exams, and legal documents that Americans have to go through that to much of the world does not. He also noted that it has been hard to identify where his home is. “When asked for a mailing address what should I say?…Thailand? Wheaton? Texas?…Figuring out these things has been a constant struggle”.
Later he touched on how his experience as an MK at Wheaton has been. He said, “[he] is always realizing that [Wheaton] is one of many colleges” and that “there are so many other thoughts, opinions and theories out there. We can never think we’ve arrived at the truth”. He complimented Wheaton as an academic institution, but reiterated that it is a small part of God’s work in this world.
With that being said, are American colleges and students doing what they need to in order to keep these students around? Unfortunately, it seems that the answer is no. According to USAToday, the number of Indonesian college students in America has dropped from 13,282 in 1998, to 6,943 in 2009. Students across the globe are finding better places to fit in and gain a better education. From 2000 to 2008, the number of students enrolled in college outside of their home country rose 85% to over 3.3 million, but in that time the US went from holding 24% of those students to 19%. Although America still maintains the highest number of international students, the losses cannot be denied.
The current college-aged American has lost their touch with the rest of the world. Generations before us have had so much experience with world travel and globalization, and now that those numbers are higher than ever, students are shying away from cultural expansion.
The world is moving faster than ever. You can talk to someone from across the globe with the touch of a button. Media has connected our world in so many ways, but has also driven it apart. Social media can be a positive outlet for many resources such as news, staying in touch with family, or expression, but it seems that students in this generation are beginning to take it farther, and in effect, are pushing away the real world. Our lives have become profiles and statuses that we make instead of who we really are. The basis of interpersonal communication has shifted from face-to-face interaction to largely digitized. As we become so absorbed in ourselves and how we present ourselves online, we start to push away those people who bring us rich culture and friendship.
Although these students are leaving their homes to come to America, that does not mean that we can ignore their ways of living. We can help their transition to America by being welcoming, supportive, and hospitable in all we do. Maybe it’s time that we notice those around us who are quietly slipping by. Sit down, have a conversation, and join the real world for a change.