International panel offers response to campus concernsFifth in a series Even if they’re not Italian, international students on the Dickinson State campus know the old adage of what to do when they’re in Rome.
By: Christinia Crippes, The Dickinson Press
Fifth in a series
DICKINSON - Even if they’re not Italian, international students on the Dickinson State campus know the old adage of what to do when they’re in Rome.
They’re just waiting for the domestic students on campus to start acting like Romans themselves.
“They jump in their vehicle (on the weekends to head home) and don’t spend no time getting to know the international students,” Bahamian and DSU senior Nickito Johnson said. “They also feel the international students have to break the ice. Well, when in Rome do what the Romans do, that is true, but the Romans have to be welcoming first.”
Johnson and a panel of international students recently sat down with the Press, after a group of students raised concerns with DSU’s global awareness initiative.
Trying to integrate
He and the other students agreed with the group raising concerns that integration is key, but they feel the burden should be on the host students.
“There’s opportunities for them to learn; Americans need to embrace it and stop thinking that everything is just supposed to fall in their lap,” Johnson said.
DSU student Silvia Vigier offers a unique perspective as the only French student on campus. She said her integration with domestic students is inevitable.
As a volleyball player, Vigier said she used to sit with the team and no one mentioned that she wasn’t intermingling with other groups.
“They need to realize that that’s normal, like for Russian people to eat together, Bahamians to eat together, because it’s easy for you. Eating, it’s a moment to be with your friends,” Vigier said.
She said the American students need to look beyond origins when they single out groups.
“We don’t want to entertain anybody,” Johnson said. “We want to talk about missing home, what’s going on at home. We want to reflect about not being home, so that’s what it’s about. It’s nothing personal.”
Mongolian student Uyanga Bayandalai said she would welcome any interaction on campus. She said, though, international students are self-conscious sometimes, thinking the U.S. students won’t understand them.
“I think DSU is pretty much my second home, and when I’m home I don’t want to be alone and just watch TV and hang out and be alone,” Bayandalai said. “So, it’s like, I can hang out with Mongolian guys, but we’re in America.”
The students agreed, though, for the most part they have been welcomed on campus.
“I think they are kind to me, because they try hard to explain everything that we don’t know,” Chinese student Anan Chen said. “I think they will come talk to us, but it’s not very hard. It’s easy here.”
Learning the language
“Sometimes it was kind of hard to become a group and work on a project kind of thing,” Bayandalai said. “It’s like, ‘OK, she’s from Asia, so probably there will be a language barrier, so we don’t need to discuss or any kind of thing.’”
Bayandalai said the students never said that explicitly to her, but she felt like they thought that about her.
For both Nepalese DSU student Saroj Acharya and Bayandalai, the fact that U.S. students can’t properly pronounce their names can sometimes be frustrating.
Acharya has been to the United States before and said his first time here, he had difficulty understanding them, but now it’s a lot easier.
He said his English has improved to the point that automated systems understand him when he speaks to them through the phone.
“It’s compulsory in my country to take English, not as a foreign language,” Acharya said. “The persons today will know the ‘A, B, C, D,’ first and then after they will know the native. The second is the native.”
He said that’s true of people who go to private schools, but many students in Nepal do.
Bayandalai said she started taking English classes in fifth grade, whereas Acharya started in first grade, but it wasn’t a requirement.
“We teach students English language as just a language choice, but nobody wants to learn it perfectly or use it practically or kind of a conversational language kind of thing,” Bayandalai said. “We do know how to read, but we do can speak, but not so good, so it’s hard to communicate with someone in another language that we didn’t very well learn.”
Vigier said regardless of the amount of years a person learns a language, it takes a trip to that country to learn to speak it well.
Because Chen is majoring in English, she values the chance to come here and get a better education in the language.
“Everyday for me, I have something new to learn,” Chen said. “When I first came here, I could not understand what teachers said in class. It’s really hard for me. Now I get used to it.”
Chen said as she writes papers and speaks the language daily that she is getting better. Her major here is in communication, which allows her to take courses in public speaking, oral interpretation and speech.
As a native English speaker, Johnson said he can understand the Americans’ frustration with hearing so much of a foreign country’s language. He said, however, it’s something they have to accept.
“When they go into their natural tongue, that’s going to happen, but I’m sure I would say to them if somebody walks into the room, and they’re in a group, don’t get to talk in the room,” Johnson said. “It makes that person feel like they are talking about them.”
The rest of the group agreed, but as the second largest represented foreign language speakers, Bayandalai said that simply doesn’t happen.
“Well, actually, we don’t talk about bad things in front of them in our language,” Bayandalai said.
Vigier said when she had another French friend on campus, out of respect, they both tried to speak English as much as possible when they were in mixed groups.
Getting an education
The international students said they welcome being on a campus with students from 33 different countries, where they could learn from everyone.
“Don’t put a label on us; we want to learn, and we have to help you learn,” Johnson said. “Everyone should try to see that this is an opportunity they will always remember in their life. When you have about 30 different countries all on campus – like I said, there will be a few setbacks about it – but think about I’ve already been to France and I’ve never set foot in the country.”
Vigier said her friends back home are impressed when she talks about having friends from Mongolia and the Bahamas, among others.
“You feel like, wow, you’re a huge person,” Vigier said. “There’s so many opportunities I’m so proud of.”
Acharya said despite living on the same continent, he’d never met a Mongolian person until he came to DSU.
“I’ve never even heard of a country called Nepal until I came here, because in our studies in the Bahamas, all they told us was the highest point in the world was Mount Everest…they never told us it’s actually in a country called Nepal,” Johnson said.
Chen, who is from the city of Chongqing that has a population of more than 30 million, said many American students don’t realize how many different groups there are within the Chinese students on campus.
“You can see a big group of Chinese students, but they have little, small groups, like culture, like different,” Chen said. “The little small group and other small group will sometimes get some conflicts. China is so big, like really different, like north and south, like their favorite foods. It’s really different, and language, even we can’t understand other places in China.”
While Chen has been on campus, she’s been happy to meet other cultures. She has been involved in the Taste of Nations event and joined the dance team.
“I bring some of my traditional Chinese dances,” Chen said.
The international students worry less about other foreign students arriving late than the American students do.
“I don’t know what the problem is about that,” Vigier said. “If they are going to be in trouble, I am sorry for them.”
Neither Vigier nor Johnson had problems with students staying for one semester. Vigier said some U.S. students do that as well.
“Any exchange program practically works like that,” Johnson said. “From what I’ve been told, the only problem with that we have encountered is that don’t adjust the schedule just for them.”
Johnson said it’s sometimes difficult to send a package to the Bahamas, and some of these students are coming from much farther away.
“I’ve heard students say they’ve spent two days in an airport before they can get another flight to connect again to get into America,” Johnson said. “Nobody is intentionally trying to come to school late.”
Vigier said, though, for those students who take a long time to travel between here and their home country, it makes sense they might return from a short break – like at Christmas – a little late.
Bayandalai said sometimes when she’s traveling there just are not tickets available for when she needs to fly.
Chen, who is studying here as part of an exchange program, did not have problems getting to the U.S., because the university in China helped her. She agreed, though, it might be difficult for someone coming alone.
The student panel comprised of students in their second year at DSU, except Johnson, who has been here for three years.
Johnson and Acharya said living in the dorms was an adjustment because in their native countries, men do not walk around in towels in front of each other.
Bayandalai said as a residence assistant she doesn’t really see too many cultural differences.
“I think you adapt, too,” Vigier said. “Now, I’m living with three other girls. It’s the first time I’m living out of my parents place. It’s not a big deal. You just have to adapt, just to live with other people.”
Chen, like the other students, does notice some tension between the various groups on campus, but she said it takes time to adjust. She said there are some conflicts in dorms – like students staying out late or bringing over boyfriends or girlfriends.
“I don’t know, maybe it’s a personality thing, I think,” Chen said.
With the exception of Johnson, the international panel took the orientation class given by Multicultural Affairs Director Thy Yang.
The students liked the class, but Johnson said the syllabus should be changed so both American and foreign students can learn from it.
“As freshmen, they will make natural bonds inside of them (the classes),” Johnson said. “Talk about bringing the cultures together. Talk about where they’re from.”
Acharya and Bayandalai agreed many American students are just as in need of some basic U.S. knowledge. Acharya said he met New Yorkers who didn’t know where North Dakota was, and Bayandalai said she met an American who told her North Dakota was in Canada.
The students did agree with the student group that raised concerns that the countries should be more balanced, so there is not an overabundance of one group represented.
“I think we need to do something with right now, when we have 350 international students, and I think the number is going to still increase, so we need to do something now with American students, maybe more interaction, just to get to know everybody and just to show you as a person,” Vigier said. “Like OK, I’m French, but I’d like to be shown as I’m Silvia.”
(Note: The story in Saturday’s Press titled “Administration tackles international concerns,” was the fourth in this series.)