When freshmen arrive on campus, they head straight to their residence hall. As a year-long home for students, residence halls not only function as buildings filled with rooms for sleeping, but also places for students with diverse backgrounds to socialize. Although residence hall living is a big change for what most incoming freshmen are accustomed to, it may be a bigger change for international students. It many take longer for students who travel from across the world to adapt to this sudden shift of environment – and that can be particularly true for introverted students like me.
As leaders who serve to create a better residential community for students, resident advisors at GW should work to better connect domestic and international students by holding cultural-themed activities for major cultural holidays throughout freshman year. Their efforts can enable international students to interact more with their neighbors while allowing domestic students to get a taste of different cultures. This would allow students to learn more about different perspectives from people around the world and encourage domestic students to consider joining multicultural student organizations. These steps are important for a smoother transition to the collegiate community and more meaningful communication between students living close to each other.
Alongside the leadership of RAs, international students have more chances to introduce their culture to students from the U.S.
During the first semester of my freshman year in Madison Hall, I enjoyed frequently chatting with my RA. He offered suggestions like how to choose the right courses and regularly checked in with me about my family, which made me feel more comfortable living in a different country far away from my home. This close relationship with my RA made me realize that all international students should have better resources to help them adapt. Although one-on-one conversations are helpful for individual students to fit into the new community, it can be expanded to a larger scale under a cultural event initiative by RAs. This would also facilitate more interactions among students, not just with RAs.
Alongside the leadership of RAs, international students have more chances to introduce their culture to students from the U.S., which can help them express themselves and make friends more easily. Although RAs can plan these events alone, it would be more productive for international students to actively propose ideas to RAs and assist in planning different events. For example, residents on the floors that are supervised by an RA can cook traditional food from different cultures together or simply go out to a restaurant for dinner during a festival like the recent Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls in September or October, or Lunar New Year, which falls in January and February. These two holidays are celebrated by many Asian countries and are holidays an international student, like me, would celebrate back home.
Such small gatherings and celebrations wouldn’t just benefit international students. They would also offer domestic students ways to learn and appreciate the characteristics of other societies and would foster a more welcoming and inclusive environment on campus. In recent years, the University initiated efforts to expand resources available to international students and the student body has become increasingly diverse. The Multicultural Student Services Center and student organizations already offer multicultural events for all students. But RA events would help to further integrate international and domestic students. Socializing with neighboring international students who come from different regions of the world can also facilitate an exchange of ideas regarding international issues. That can help both groups form more objective views and adjust potentially wrong impressions students may have about a certain group in the past.
Cross-cultural communication at the residential level is one way GW can strengthen a sense of community, regardless of background.
More domestic students can also use these events organized by RAs as starting points to engage in multicultural student organizations. These activities may pique a student’s interest in a culture and compel them to study abroad to further explore that culture.
Although it can be argued that interactions between international and domestic students should be a personal and voluntary matter, the residential environment makes it easy for RAs to organize activities of this kind. It takes just a few knocks on a door or a simple email to invite residents to attend the events. This is especially important during the first year of college when students tend to look for easy approaches to know more about their classmates. Cross-cultural communication at the residential level is one way GW can strengthen a sense of community that incorporates students, regardless of background.
Marx Wang, a sophomore double-majoring in philosophy and political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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This article appeared in the October 12, 2017 issue of the Hatchet.