The other side of multiculturalism

Internationals are the least acknowledged minority group on campus. Different among themselves, they were brought up in diverse cultures each one with its own ideals. The only common factor they have that often links them together is that they are not American. Hence, they don’t have as strong a political agenda as other groups may have and at the same time are not as united. Nonetheless, they represent in one group the essence of multiculturalism.

According to the official line, Williams currently has about 150 international students, approximately 7 percent of the student body. This number, however, does not fully represent the total of Internationals on campus. Under this label, one could also include a fair number of us who are dual or triple nationals or Americans having never previously lived in the United States. The term “Internationals” would thus not be limited to those requiring a visa or the filling of an F1 Form in order to enroll.

International students form a different type of minority on campus. We are not necessarily differentiated by our physical attributes and, I would say, our dead giveaway is usually the way we talk and act. I remember that during my first day at Williams, I was telling some people a story, and at one point I said “there it was, a couple meters to the left…” and everyone burst out laughing. At that point I thought “I haven’t gotten to the punch line yet, why is everyone laughing?” Then someone pointed out “She said meters!” Okay, I understand that I nearly have an American accent, but still.… It seems that a lot of the terms I use are a great source of amusement to my American friends. For example, it is a petrol station, not a gas station; it is a lift, and not an elevator; the last letter of the alphabet is pronounced “zed;” one lives in a flat, not an apartment; biscuits are sweet; and a jumper is not a dress. Yet I think that of the expressions I use that is the most amusing to Americans is “bloody Hell,” especially since I have little trace of a foreign accent.

It would be very false to say that we are a source of amusement to the rest of the campus without saying that the rest of the campus can be a source of amusement to us. Often some Americans ask questions to which the answers seem evident if you come from abroad. For example, I have heard some ask, “what is the Euro?” This left the handful of Internationals present attempting to suppress our laughter. Also, in class discussions sometimes we like to advance completely non-American – bordering on what could be perceived as anti-American – views. In a sense we feel like we have the mission to represent other perspectives, and try to provoke others to see why they think the way they do.

But don’t get me wrong. Internationals are far from being against Americans: after all, if we were, why would we come here to study so far from home? If an International student’s feelings were antagonistic, he or she would be studying in the United Kingdom, Australia or even a non-English speaking country. It is just that sometimes it can be frustrating seeing the rest of the student body ferment in its own juice, and not look at a wider global picture.

I do believe, however, that there are two basic types of International students, which is not to say that there aren’t major exceptions. The first group hangs out mainly with other Internationals, especially if there are others from their own culture. This is very understandable; after all you make friends with people with whom you have things in common. The second group, are “want-to-be Americans.” These have mainly attended international or American schools, and hence are not too involved with their own culture of origin. Once again, you find that most of these students tend to easily adapt to the environment surrounding them. Nonetheless, there are definitely those who fall in between these two categories.

At any rate, I believe that each of us learns a lot from being an International student as well as from being around Internationals. Our experiences have been very different from those of others on campus for the simple reason that life where they come from can be far removed from that of an American or of another International of a distinct culture. For the sheer reason that we represent something new and unknown, we will make you see things in a different way. International Students are the embodiment of multiculturalism, since under this one global label you find everything from a Latin American, to an Asian, to Africans and more. Let’s share, rejoice in our rich diversity and learn from each other.

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