Four weeks ago, Arkansas Tech University welcomed an entirely new department. The Department of Diversity and Inclusion is currently made up of one staff member, Dr. MarTeze Hammonds. As dean of Diversity and Inclusion, Hammonds is responsible for Tech’s progression in to a more unified campus.
Though there are multiple demographics involved in this program, international students play a major role. This semester, there are 457 international students on campus. Despite the growth of the Office of International and Multicultural Student Services in the past few years, its students still only make up .05% of the overall population. Looking at this statistic brings light to the issue.
In college life it is easy to get into routine and not step out of our comfort zone, which is one of the main reasons for the exclusion of international students. They are different from us. Approaching them requires venturing out into the unknown and that scares us.
One of my friends once told me, “If you aren’t intentionally including someone, you are unintentionally excluding them.” This statement is proven true by international students around the world. I’ve witnessed it firsthand. Not only does my family work with college international students in Fayetteville, but I also have spent two summers living and interning with a mission organization in the mountains of Honduras.
After stepping onto foreign soil, it is natural to cling to similar people around you. This can be seen in every demographic. People tend to gravitate toward things that remind them of home. On top of that, different cultures have different understandings of the word “friendship”. We call someone a friend that we may see every couple of weeks, while other cultures think of friendship as more consistent contact. When we call someone a friend and then don’t talk to them for two weeks, they just don’t understand. This is one of the biggest barriers between cultures on campus and why we stick to our own cultures.
Our first year working for International Student Christian Association (ISCA), my family and I rarely saw our international students, though we lived in the same house with them. There were three nationalities in our house: Vietnamese, Bolivian, and South Korean. Three of the girls were South Korean and they were inseparable. They ate, studied and lived together. Instead of diving into American culture, they spoke their native language and avoided optional social outings with ISCA. They were never rude, but they would rather spend their time together instead of experiencing our culture.
I found myself in this same situation in Honduras. I didn’t know the language well and I’m rather introverted, so I preferred hanging out with the other American interns by watching movies and playing card games instead of exploring the town. My brain would freeze up when a Honduran would start talking to me in Spanish. It was easier and more comfortable for me to stay away from those situations.
It can be difficult to understand why someone would rather stay in with friends instead of going to a foreign party because it sounds so fun! But the social and cultural anxiety that goes into those few hours makes it hard to muster up the courage to go.
My second week in Honduras, one of the natives working with the organization took me under her wing and eased me into the Honduran culture. Lucy understood that I wasn’t comfortable and didn’t want to make a fool of myself. Once I opened up, I realized just how much I was missing out on.
It took one intentional Honduran to get me out of my comfort zone. I experienced and learned more than I ever knew was possible because one person reached out to me. Lucy’s consistent friendship encouraged me to do the unthinkable.
Through organizations like ISCA and people like Lucy, international students are able to step into the unknown and grow as individuals and scholars.
By experiencing both sides of the spectrum, I understand international students’ issues with American culture and have less anxiety approaching them. It is truly a mutual fear. When you’re in your own country, it’s less frightening to approach another person. I encourage you to talk to an international student in your class! It’s easy to invite them to events on campus so they aren’t the alone or only with their fellow countrymen. You can even have a simple meal with them! Friendly gestures mean the world when you are in a new environment.
Tech has come far in its attempts to unify campus and though the Department of Diversity and Inclusion is sparking the movement, native students are the flame that determines how far we go.