As a university that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, ASU does a great job at attracting students from around the world. With nearly 4,000 international students enrolled, the opportunity to learn about students from all different walks of life is there. The problem is that this is, more often than not, an overlooked opportunity.
I will openly admit that when previously paired up with international students, I thought this meant that I was going to be stuck doing a majority of the work. As a result of this mindset, I typically did end up doing a majority of the work. I now see this was my fault.
Let me explain this better by sharing some insights I gained after spending a semester studying abroad in Singapore, a city-state and island country in Southeast Asia. Although the population is predominantly Chinese-speaking, English is the primary spoken language, which was going to make it easy for me to succeed in my classes — or so I thought.
On the first day of classes, I quickly learned that I was going to typically be the only white student among about fifty other locals. Right off the bat, I wanted to demonstrate to my classmates that despite primarily being on study abroad to enjoy exploring Southeast Asia, I was also going to be serious about my classes. I showed up to all of my classes, participated everyday and did well on all my assignments. Just as I was beginning to think I had proven that I wasn’t just another privileged exchange student there to slack off, a group project was assigned. The classmates to my left and right quickly scattered away to search for group mates, and as I continued to approach other students, they either greeted me with, “We already found our team,” or avoided making eye contact with me entirely. This left all of the exchange students together to be on a team. Aside from making projects more difficult, since we were all unfamiliar with grading criteria there, this prevented us from meeting locals and gaining a better understanding for Singaporean culture.
I talked with other exchange students and quickly learned that these types of behaviors were becoming a trend. Singaporeans are extremely hardworking, goal-oriented, and not going to let any distractions get in the way of graduating with top honors. As exchange students, we were seen as one of those distractions.
After this experience, I began to think back to all the times that I had done the same thing in my classes at ASU. I assumed that international students were not going to put in the time, so I took on a larger part of the workload without even giving them a chance — and I complained about it the entire time, too.
Rather than viewing international students as a distraction in our classes, it is time we start viewing them as valuable additions to our learning experience. These students are here to experience our culture, but we continue to put up walls that induce them to only hang out with other international students. The biggest detriment to any study abroad experience is latching on to people from your own country and never leaving your comfort zone. However, we often put international students in a position to do just this.
Many of us can agree that one of the best feelings in life is feeling welcomed. A simple, “How was your weekend?” or a suggestion for somewhere they should visit will go a long way for an international student. It is important that we acknowledge their differences, but continue to treat them the way you would treat any other student at ASU.
What good is a diverse campus if we are not taking advantage of it? Enough of the grunting when paired with an international student, and enough of the “foreign cliques” around campus. It’s time we start living up to the diversity and inclusion standards that ASU has made possible for us.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ryguy916
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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