International Students Need Empathy, Not Isolation

Editor’s Note: The original version of this piece included a quote from a Puerto Rican student. The Foghorn recognizes that Puerto Ricans are Americans and are therefore not foreign students, the sentence has been removed.


What makes USF great? The melting pot of USF students bring their diverse perspectives and add cultural variety to campus. The University draws from 91 countries across the globe, with international students making up 15.5 percent of our student population. Here, you won’t find a widespread culture of blatant xenophobia.


But the harsh reality is that many international students attending USF still feel the sting of bigotry. Stereotypes aren’t just found in the dogmatic, discriminatory sentiments on the headlines of the news. Everyone — even the most progressive, socially responsible individuals  — use stereotypes constantly, even if they do not consciously realize it.


Chinese students, the largest population of international students at USF, often face the stereotype of being aloof individuals who look down upon non-Chinese students. Alex Yang, a Chinese first-year who just moved here from Sydney, Australia, expressed to me that though he hasn’t personally experienced much prejudice, he has noticed that some students pigeonhole all Chinese students. Some believe that, “if you are Chinese, you only talk to, hang out with, eat with, drink with or go to karaoke with other Chinese students,” Yang said.


Nina Gordon Lopes, an advisor to international students, observes that there is potential for domestic and international students to integrate well. “However,” she notes, “many international students communicate that they feel isolated in certain spaces on campus.”


Domestic students have a tendency to pin this blame on international students, claiming they cling to groups of their own nationality and aren’t willing to go out of their comfort zone to socialize with others. But as domestic students, we have a social responsibility to provide an accepting, inclusive community for international students.


These students travel thousands of miles across the globe to attend university. Familiar structures of home, family, friends and traditions are replaced by an entirely new cultural environment. We must empathize with those from different backgrounds rather than show contempt over them spending time with the familiar.


At a school nicknamed “University of Spoiled Foreigners,” it’s obvious that there are preconceived notions about international students’ wealth. “There is an assumption that all students [at USF] — whether domestic or international — are affluent… and that’s just not the case,” Lopes said. For example, China has very specific laws regarding the amounts of and ways money can leave the country. Thus, it’s likely many Chinese students need financial assistance to attend USF.


Just because we’re not blatantly yelling at students to leave the country doesn’t mean we’re not prejudiced. Most stereotypes are unconscious, yet continue to affect our behavior and interactions with others. It’s imperative that domestic students put more effort towards creating conversation and sharing experiences with international students on an informal, daily basis.


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