As an international student from China, I took some time to get out of my comfort zone and become integrated into GW’s environment. Fortunately, I had help. Through some class assignments, American students were encouraged to reach out and interact with international students like me.
Although it’s impossible to completely eliminate racial bias, GW can help students see each other as individuals, instead of their cultural stereotypes. This can be achieved by designing more class assignments that require students to talk to their peers from a different culture. By facilitating a better understanding between domestic and international students, we can further strengthen our community.
As a freshman, I’ve seen how class assignments can be helpful in facilitating cross-cultural interactions, like when my next-door neighbor interviewed me for an essay for her anthropology class. It was expected to take less than half an hour. Yet, we ended up talking for more than an hour about various topics, like what I missed most about my hometown and how I thought it’s important for Americans to respond to the new presidency by being more inclusive of different minority groups. Here, I could freely express my ideas to a foreign listener who cared. She noticed that even though we came from different cultural backgrounds, we still had some similar opinions, like the negative impact of political correctness and the value of listening to diverse perspectives.
Before that interview, there was not only a literal wall between the person who lived right next door and me, but a perceived metaphorical wall too. Even when we saw each other, we couldn’t comfortably talk to one another. But after answering questions for her class assignment about my culture, that wall was torn down. When we encountered each other again, we could start conversations more naturally. Her assignment brought us closer and allowed us to gain a better understanding of each other. I was also previously hesitant to casually start conversations with domestic students because I was shy. Since then, I approach them more actively and feel there is nothing to worry about.
Courses in the social sciences — in disciplines like psychology, sociology and anthropology — are suitable for facilitating interactions like this because they focus on studying how people socialize and the influence of cultural differences. Assignments can be in the form of presentations or papers that require students to interview and talk to others from different cultures. From these interviews, both international and domestic students can gain a new perspective.
Class assignments can function as bridges that initiate and build connections with classmates one may not usually approach. When students start to understand that differences in culture don’t dictate individual personalities, they can exchange ideas more comfortably. These assignments provide opportunities for students to easily turn strangers into friends, especially for international students like me who are shy to initiate such meaningful conversations.
Language classes at GW are more obvious instances in which domestic students can interact with international students. Students can turn to native speakers of certain languages for help, which allows different groups to learn more about each other and their respective cultures. International students understand the difficulties of learning a second language, so I know we would be willing to support students taking language classes by helping them review their assignments and answer questions. Language classes should also encourage these interactions so that students can be enriched after class as well.
When a student on my floor asked me to look over his essay for his Chinese class, I was excited to help him. The different sentence structures in Chinese make direct translations to English hard to understand, so I elaborated on the importance of context, which helped him form sentences that were not just grammatically correct, but flowed better.
These opportunities allow students to see the real me instead of the stereotypical international student image – someone who alienates himself and refuses to socialize with students from other cultures. I treat these interactions as chances for me not only to help students with coursework, but make friends and talk to people from different cultures.
Although both of these class interactions revolve around domestic students asking foreign students for help with assignments, international students should also strive to initiate communication. The classes we take, regardless of the discipline and subject, are all in English — which is different from our native languages. Whether it’s a small question about a reading, or a project that involves interviewing someone, we don’t need to struggle to find solutions ourselves. Our fellow students, who come from different areas of the United States, can offer us helpful insights when it comes to academic issues or even just casual conversations.
Having meaningful interactions is a process that requires effort from both sides. Both domestic and international students should look to their peers from the other group when in need. Culture-related assignments are essential to fostering this interaction because they force both groups to approach and help the other. This can eventually lead to the development of a better community in which students know each other as friends, rather than people from vastly different cultures.
Marx Wang, a freshman double-majoring in political science and philosophy, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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