Art by Christopher Chen
The number of international students in the United States is on the rise. This increase creates potential for more diversity and opportunity for cultural awareness, but it also brings many challenges and issues with welcoming international students into college communities.
According to a study by the Institute of International Education, there are 691,000 international students attending schools in the United States, and a UNESCO statistic places the United States at No. 1 of 20 countries that attract the most overseas students.
This opportunity – and the concerns that come with it – also apply to Pepperdine. Pepperdine’s Seaver campus is made up of 9.95 percent international students from more than 70 countries. However small that number may seem, we have had and continue to have a large international student presence on campus, but the cultures and individuals that make up this part of our population are not always recognized and appreciated.
Addressing all of the challenges that face international students coming to Pepperdine may be a tall order, but it is imperative that we put forth the effort both in policy and as a community to make international students and their cultures as welcome as possible. Recognition, friendliness and willingness to learn about other cultures on our part can help those of us who face a few more hurdles when coming to a new college.
Freshman Senator Scott Hutchins brought this issue to student government by creating a committee specifically for addressing the needs of international students.
He said he saw there were issues not being addressed for some of his international friends and realized there was a “void in student government” for allowing them to voice pertinent issues.
With this in mind, Hutchins created a new initiative called the Committee for International Students to directly allow these students to voice their opinions and provide a channel for administration to hear their concerns.
“There isn’t really any outlet for international students, so I think this gives them that outlet,” Hutchins said.
The committee is certainly a step in the right direction for bringing the international student population’s needs and desires into focus, but making changes solely in policy is not going to completely change the shortage of cultural awareness and cultural openness on campus.
Our fellow international students face many unique challenges, including differently structured classes and classes that deviate from “normal” curriculum in other countries.
For example, classes in other countries may not have the same methods of testing or formats of writing that American institutions such as Pepperdine use on a regular basis. In addition, religion courses, Christian-focused classes and other subjects may not be taught in some countries.
Language barriers on both sides also raise potential difficulties in making friendships and navigating everyday life. Perhaps most importantly, international students must adjust to college life while simultaneously adjusting to a different culture.
The Office of International Student Services (OISS) tries to address the needs of international students to the greatest extent possible. According to Brooke Cutler, senior associate director of admissions and international student services, OISS provides international student orientation sessions (in addition to Pepperdine’s other orientation events such as NSO) and coaching and mentoring services.
Additionally, international students are not housed separately, allowing them to become more involved in campus life. Some clubs and organizations focus on specific international cultures.
However, some challenges remain. Cutler wrote in an email that “Pepperdine staff and students have collectively expressed their desire for further engagement of international students in clubs and organizations,” in addition to other activities and services such as Campus Recreation.
Additionally, the Pepperdine International Club, which was once very popular, is now in the process of trying to increase involvement and leadership, according to Cutler.
“OISS is interested in identifying additional motivated student leaders willing to help as a member of our greater team to once again bring the Pepperdine International Club to the forefront of student life and activities,” Cutler wrote.
Though the OISS and SGA are putting policies into place to address and alleviate some of these issues, it is important to remember that policies alone cannot change the atmosphere and culture on campus.
In trying to bridge the gap between our cultures, we may be focusing too much on helping international students come to our side. Domestic students, as friends, classmates and citizens, need to broaden our cultural awareness and lose the attitude of charity in helping them to “assimilate.”
Assimilation is not the goal — the goal is diversity. International students come here to learn more about American culture, and American students also have the opportunity to learn more about their culture.
Overall, this needs to be an effort from both policy makers and the community. We here at the Graphic may not have all of the answers, but we will be making a conscious effort to offer more coverage relating to international students as an integral part of our campus community in every weekly issue.
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