My replies to those statements would be thank you, and no.
Late in December 2013 I landed in Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C., my first time in the United States. I come from Kuwait, in the westernmost part of Asia, and the northeastern part of the Arabian peninsula. My first language is Arabic, but we learn English and French in school.
When some people learn I am a Kuwaiti national I sometimes am asked how I cope with the war back home. I’ll reply, but I know they’re wondering about the Iraq war of 1990, which ended in 1991, five years before I was born. Some will wonder about ISIS’ presence in Kuwait, which is ridiculous—Kuwait is 350 miles away from any area under the group’s control.
I understand people aren’t going to know everything about my country. It’s a very small country—even smaller than New Jersey. But I have noticed something: administrators I’ve dealt with, and several of my classmates, don’t know much about countries outside of the U.S., which makes me wonder: are the international students and students of different backgrounds actually making a significant impact on the school? Will each group of people be an exclusive group, where they let their culture and history “live” or will they share it with people from outside?
Rana Alamri, a junior information sciences and technologies major from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, feels like this is true of her country too.
“Sometimes Americans can be very ignorant, most of the time,” she said. “I like them, but it’s ridiculous. Like, ‘Oh you drink oil, you have oil money, you must be rich!’ which I am not, or ‘Where is Saudi Arabia?’ or questioning whether I was allowed to talk to men or not.”
Thao Duong, a freshman chemistry major from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, said he has also found difficulty interacting with American friends.
“There is still space for Temple to create a diverse, yet not segregated campus,” Duong said.
You might have seen or noticed this phenomenon on Temple’s Main Campus, where students of a certain race will stick together, especially international students.
It’s important to keep in mind that some of these students come from a different culture and might be extremely overwhelmed by how Americans act around each other, so they will resort to interacting with people from their own country.
Some student organizations like the Asian Students Association, have been working to break that self-segregation. Their events promote Asian culture across campus and boasts members from all over the world, including foreign exchange students from the United Kingdom.
“Our number one goal in Temple ASA is to provide a safe and welcoming space for all students to be themselves and grow together,” said Lue Vang, a senior biology and teaching major and President of ASA. “There’s an atmosphere where new members can feel that they truly matter and where they know there are other members who would sincerely like to meet them.”
Some students said they want to be segregated because of their differences from American students. Alamri feels like teachers do not take her situation under consideration as an international student.
“I have difficulty writing a full English paper for my Gen-Ed classes,” she said. Alamri added she would like to see more classes geared toward the needs of international students. Hameedah Taqi, a freshman biology major agreed, asking for more classes for non-native English speakers.
Alamri added the activities that are supposed to help international students mingle with domestic students could be better advertised.
She also said she doesn’t ever fear wearing her hijab on campus and hasn’t faced discrimination for doing so.
“People fear what they don’t know and they tend to label people and stick them into categories, it is much easier to give common judgement than try to understand something,” she said.
Temple’s campus has been advertised as diverse, and it certainly is. The mix of international students can offer a lot to the university, but it might take a while for all students to come to that understanding.
Ayah Alkhars can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.