International students face challenges in bringing diversity to Tufts
Published: Monday, April 30, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 30, 2012 08:04
Tufts boasts a large and varied international community, making up 16 percent of the undergraduate population. These students come from over 65 different countries, ranging from China to Ghana to Moldova. Their experience at Tufts is quite different from that of the average American student, as many face significant academic and social challenges within the Tufts community with which American−born students do not have to contend.
The first and most daunting task for international students is adapting to American university culture. For many, understanding jokes and cultural references is difficult, especially when the context is unfamiliar. Language is another major hurdle, according to Puerto Rican freshman Giovanna Castro.
“I was surprised that, even though I’ve been speaking English since I was six years old, the sudden change of speaking English all the time [was] hard,” Castro said. “It still is kind of hard. It’s easier for me to express myself in Spanish.”
“My English level wasn’t ideal when I arrived,” Pablo Fernandez, an exchange student from Spain, said. “It was basically really difficult to understand people.”
Freshman Adiel Pollydore is originally from Guyana, but she has lived in Beijing, China since the age of six and attended an international school there. She has noticed several cultural differences between China and the United States.
“China is very crowded, and there are a lot of people, and there’s no such thing as a personal bubble of space,” she said. “Here, people are very much about, ‘this is my space, don’t step into it, give me my room’ — not all up in each other’s business all the time, which is an interesting part of the culture.”
Pakistani senior Asad Badruddin pointed out another major change in culture he has experienced in America.
“Culturally, America, or at least college in America, is different in the sense that people here are a bit more individualistic,” he said. “[That’s] not necessarily a negative thing, but they’re very focused towards their goals in life — I mean, everyone is, but more so here.”
Academics in the United States and at Tufts are another aspect of life where many students need to adjust. Lecturer Lynn Stevens, director of the English 3 and 4 courses, teaches a first−year English course for international students called “Reading, Writing and Research.” She says that many international students are behind in these three areas.
“Many students already come at a huge disadvantage,” Stevens said. “They have huge amounts of text to read, arguments to write … and their educational system may not have provided them with an understanding of how to move forward in this field. This is true of U.S. students too, but [international students] particularly struggle.”
“I’d never written papers longer than 600 words,” Badruddin said. “Writing papers three to five pages and longer was hard for the first couple of semesters.”
Fernandez, who is a graduate of the University of Alcalá in Spain, noticed differences in American students’ academic expectations.
“It’s really different, because everyone expects to get an A, and having an A or a B+, 90 percent of people could have it,” he said. “In Spain, I would say about 20 percent of people get a top grade. It really shocked me.”
Food is another important part of Chinese culture that Pollydore misses.
“Food is a big part of it, because eating burgers and pasta and French fries — the stuff that Dewick has for lunch sometimes — I eat that when I’m at home around once every two weeks,” she said. “When people here say they’re going to eat Chinese food, it’s not actually Chinese food, that’s American Chinese food.”
Many international students participate in International Orientation (IO), which provides an opportunity to meet and form friendships with other students going through the same transition process. According to Jane Etish−Andrews, the director of the International Center, it is a starting point for students to build strong relationships, both between international students and between international students and Americans.
“At International Orientation, we include Americans, so coming into it, you’re already a part of that community,” she said. “It is a truly bonding experience for new students.”
“I was able to meet a lot of students who were going through the same thing as me,” Pollydore said. “They were getting used to being in college, but also being in college in a country that wasn’t their home country.”
Sophomore Michelle Choi, who is from Korea but has lived in the United States for eight years, is an active participant in IO. She was part of the program as a freshman, served as a host advisor this year and will coordinate it this coming summer. She sees benefits, but also drawbacks, to the experience.
“I think it goes both ways, at least from my experience,” she said. “You meet a lot of people before school starts as a freshman, and that’s a comforting thing ... you’re making the transition a lot faster. But at the same time, it could be limiting ... Obviously some people do branch out, but some just don’t.”
According to Choi, one negative stereotype about international students on the Hill is that they isolate themselves within the wider Tufts community. While this tendency may come from seeking comfort in those with similar backgrounds or experiences, Choi says that this disunity is detrimental to everyone involved, because it furthers a lack of understanding.
“It is true that ... a lot of the international students tend to stick together and form a separate community [within] Tufts. To some extent, they are conscious of the fact that they are segregating themselves from the rest of the community,” she said. “The stereotypes that American students have of international students are there because they don’t necessarily have a chance to interact with international students.”