Came back (not long ago) from another refreshing night at the International Centre, where (need it be said again) I met new people. On MSN chat later on with one of my new friends, we discussed the fact that many international students here tend to keep to themselves.
I put forward the fact that most British students already have ready-made groups and it might be a bit difficult (though not impossible) to integrate these groups. Moreover, I argued that we, as international students tended to bond and sympathise since we feel we are on the same boat. It’s not like we don’t want to mingle with the Brits; it is precisely our inability to do so (as we would like to) that makes us turn inward and look for sameness in diversity.
Inability? What inability and why? There are numerous student societies which an international student can join (and thus make new acquaintances who might with time become friends). There are various activities and outings organised by the student union and associated groups. There are lots of social venues like bars, pubs, and restaurants not very far from the uni, which allow people to gather and meet. So why do so many students complain of loneliness? What makes some of them say that they have such a hard time here? It is truly intriguing. I understand that we cannot generalise; not all students are alike; we all have different temperaments and attitudes; some are outgoing; others not. Many are lucky to make friends when they reach there; some find themselves still alone and solitary after a few months.
Given that the person I was discussing this with is about to stand for one of the union’s elections as the only International Students’ Representative (or so she claims), I wanted to know her views about this.
Many students also do not have the time to go out and socialise that much. It sounds funny, but even I have noticed that my days do not last very long; and I’m not often inclined to pursue serious work after dark myself. Some students feel shy about joining new associations since they feel it would be a loss of money and time. They might be suffering for that now.
What I have also noticed is that many International students often tend to associate with other students from the same country. Being from such a little country as mine, there is no chance of that, though I know of another Mauritian student (who happens to be studying English as well!) here in Leeds.
Thus, many Chinese students (to take an obvious example – not being discriminatory here) stick a lot together. Some of them (my flatmates y compris) go out of their way not to talk to non-Chinese people as far as they possibly can. They surround themselves with people who they think they can relate to while rejecting Otherness. I have noted the same thing among some Indians here. It might be similar for some other communities. I understand that it might be easier for them to surround themselves with people with the same background, with whom they can interact in the same language. I have heard many international students speak in English. Most of them are very good, but some really find it difficult to communicate in understandable oral English, which makes interacting and befriending Brit students a bit tricky and arduous.
I know that my thoughts are jumbled together and this, in no way, is an attempt to put forward cogent arguments about international student behaviour. Just a few observations made and a few tiny conclusions (subject to correction) reached. My proximity to the major block of the university grounds makes it easier for me to see some of the trends: who do people talk to? What groups are being formed? Who can be found in the Asian restaurant more often? Who will be more likely to be found on Sundays at the Supermarket at a certain hour? Who visits the library in its evening hours? Who has joined which group/organisation and why? How many international students actually go to the uni’s pub/nightclub?
I do not hold answers to all of these (and yet many more) questions. As an international student on a university campus that boasts of thousands of international students, I would like to reflect on what happens to us; what changes occur? What behaviour do we adopt? Is there a distinct international student lifestyle? How is our performance affected by our new environment/language/culture/etc? How are we, as an incoming ‘alien’ population (since we are so many) received by the local population, and the general student population?
The International Centre provides a neutral ground that sometimes reveals much of what an international student goes through. This is one of the reasons why I like to go there (Did I mention the drinks and the cakes? I’m pathetic…We had pancakes tonight…with honey, syrup and other diabetes-inducing gooey stuff :p)
Usually though, you tend to end up explaining to each newcomer that you come from this country; and yes, I do speak this language, but no, we don’t do such and such like this… but the process of explaining yourself and revealing your background never has tired me; some are more interested in knowing about politics, some about religion, others about languages; yet more about my experience here. It is a process of exchange, and something I do – not only with fellow internationals – but with anyone who seeks my acquaintance. My Viet flatmate no longer goes out anywhere with me these days; he seems to spend his time in his room, or in his faculty. I am not sure if this is entirely constructive; I actually do get worried about him, considering that he, to a greater degree, suffers from the silence and forbidding attitude of our other flatmates. I would like him to come, and, at my insistence he did come a few times with me outside, but he has not been anywhere special this year. I asked him before going out tonight if he would like to come; he refused, pretexting hunger and an unfinished assignment. Well, he’s adult enough, I suppose.
Ok: Time to go and sleep on my book.