This year the University of Texas welcomed its largest freshman class to date — more than 8,500 wide-eyed, eager students ready to make their mark on the 40 Acres. Nearly all are your average American students, but a handful of them — about 400 — are from different countries around the world.
Many international students may go through several stages of adjustment in their time studying in a different country. First comes the excitement for change and new experiences, but then a period of “disintegration,” an experience of frustration and homesickness, can prevent international students from assimilating into the surrounding community. Moreover, there are so few of them that it’s often easy to stick together rather than leave their comfort zone and befriend local students.
“When international students come [to UT], there is a desire to reach out and meet domestic students, get to know anybody in the community,” international student adviser Menelike Deresse said. “But just being from a different country, it’s kind of hard to break that barrier as it is for anybody that’s coming to a new school, but for international students it’s how they try to break that barrier, whether they don’t know the culture...[or] they’re not perfect in their English.”
A huge contributor to the difficulties international students experience is limited support from their academic institution and community. Daniel Chapman, a UT alum who ran for Student Government president last spring, commented in an email on the lack of representation of international students in SG during his campaign.
“I think there’s a perception around campus that international students, particularly students who stay for one or two semesters on study abroad, aren’t considered ‘real UT students,’” said Chapman. “UT needs to ensure that international students have the resources needed to thrive here not only because [it is] the right thing to do, but also because its international reputation is at stake if those students return to their home countries.”
Huixin Li, an advertising graduate student from China, noted that she has faced troubles with language barriers while in class.
“If international students don’t understand and digest lectures from professors, they would face difficulties in terms of class participations and contributions to group projects,” she said.
Students at other universities have also had similar experiences. For her thesis, Yumiko Owens, a student from East Tennessee State University, interviewed a Kenyan student who recalled when her professor couldn’t understand her English. Issues like these accentuate barriers between students from other countries and the rest of the university.
So universities, especially UT, must start with the community of professors and students who will interact with those who come from very different backgrounds. Despite being small in number, international students make up an essential part of this university’s community, and they deserve the same respect and experiences any other American student on this campus receives.
Agha is a public relations junior from Kirachi, Pakistan. Follow her on Twitter @alinaagha96.