Same Tuition, Half the Experience

When we talk about international students in America and especially California, we have to talk about China. Chinese students make up over 30% of all international students in the United States as well as the Golden State. Confirming this from my personal perspective is meaningless – but my direct experience of the change in the composition of university populations affirms a different reality, that large numbers of Chinese students are not getting the true American college experience.

Let me start out by saying that American college should be more than just studying. Deep down the American college experience is about pursuing new things that you don’t get a chance to explore in your regular life, and developing those intellectual competencies that transform an adolescent into a citizen. Most American students who go to college expect this kind of experience.

It is a great shame that we accept this bifurcation that international students have one kind of college experience and American students have another one. At the core of this division one of the most important and distinctly American experiences is utterly lost. We might say that, the intellectual and exploratory period of college allows society to touch the students’ souls in a way that nothing else does. It connects us with the greater society. If international students continue to be excluded from this, they will see no difference between American colleges and equally proficient (academically speaking) colleges in other countries that are less expensive.

If I can speak frankly, it is the Chinese international students that suffer from this division the most. Colleges are totally fine with Chinese international students remaining within their comfort zones, only hanging out with their peers. They make very few institutional efforts to cater to their needs and push them to participate in the greater American experience, unlike other kinds of groups. This is troubling considering that 31.4% of all international students studying in the United States are Chinese. Despite being a source of usually unmitigated tuition fees, these students are consistently neglected by the college system.

You might say that students shouldn’t be influenced by these college forces, but American students who would stick in their comfort zone are compelled by universities to broaden their horizons. Clubs like my own debate club cater have obvious biases against international students – who would want to debate in a second language? This holds true for many social activities that are the gateway into what American college is really about.

It’s time that universities got serious about recognizing and integrating the increasingly large international populations of universities. After all, in 2013, the percentage of international students in universities was the largest recorded at 3.9%. And no better place to start exists then the colleges of southern California, where Chinese students make up 33.4% of students, higher than the national average. It’s not just about the numbers though – colleges like USC, Berkeley and Stanford have been historically important centers of Californian culture. They are the default gateway into American culture for young Californians, and should provide the same service for the international students that pay good money to study there.

This isn’t just about Chinese students either. It is true that European students tend to acclimate better, but this is simply because they have no other option due to small percentages of the total population – there simply are not enough Danes or Italians to stay in your comfort zone (although I should note that there was an infamous “German group” in one of my classes). Koreans, who boast a 12.5% share of the total in LA, and Indians, who have the second highest representation in the United States, also face the same problems of having an easy out to facing cultural integration.

Most international students I have talked to, in fact, all of them, have expressed interest in American culture. They watch American TV shows, often watch American sports, they typically go to a few house parties or concerts but simply don’t feel welcome. Who wouldn’t stay in their comfort zone in this situation? As a society we have to do a better job of welcoming international students. And this effort starts out with the schools who benefit so much from them.


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