Schools, students must take steps to integrate international students

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Schools, students must take steps to integrate international students

Andrew Zhao, Online Editor

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From European scientists to Chinese railroad workers, America was built by immigrants. While descendants of immigrants might feel like typical Americans, our ancestors had to acclimate to a new, unfamiliar country. Today’s immigrants, whether they are graduate students or relocated refugees, share this struggle of becoming perceived as a “true American.” This struggle is exhibited at Gunn, where international students often have trouble understanding and integrat- ing themselves into the community. Oftentimes, they end up aggregating among themselves due to language and cultural barriers that keep them together. Further assimilation of international students into the com- munity will lead to a supportive learning environment for international students and a widened perspective for domestic students.

One of the greatest hurdles for international stu- dents to overcome is the English language. Even if they demonstrate mastery in a subject, not understanding the nuances of the language can prevent international students from excelling academically. Gunn cur- rently supports non-native English speakers through English Language Learners (ELL), a program meant to facilitate the transition to regular English classes. However, this program focuses more on language sup- port in humanities classes than in technical disciplines. Without this support, international students are stuck: they take the same classes as domestic students and are treated the same by teachers, even though some may struggle to understand geometric proofs due to the technical terms involved. Additionally, the language barrier causes international students to suffer socially. A study done by the University of Chicago found that facts spoken by foreign accents were deemed less trust- worthy than those spoken using a more Americanized pronunciation. Thus, students with heavy accents are often mocked, shunned or ostracized. A more compre- hensive program to overcome the language barrier in all subjects must be implemented to help international students flourish.

The presence of international students, once inte- grated, also benefits domestic students. Diversity in particular is known to engender various benefits: a study conducted by McKinsey & Company, an inter- national consulting firm, showed that companies with ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have finan- cial returns greater than their respective medians. In- ternational students are the definition of this diversity.

Sofia Sierra-Garcia

Their distinct experiences help educate American-born students about the world, whether it be about the chaos in the Middle East or the cutthroat education system in East Asia. However, many international students are insular by default: they may fear or dislike the new com- munity thrust upon them. By not integrating fully into the community, international students fail to share their diverse perspectives. Assimilation would help unlock this potential. Additionally, higher education contains large numbers of international students, with Stanford University reporting that over a third of its engineering graduate students are not from the United States. For students, exposure to international students at a young age will help them get along as they pursue higher edu- cation. However, if students cannot get along with their international peers, they risk alienating half of their classmates in the future. In order to teach students to embrace diversity, an effort to bridge the gap between international and domestic students must be made.

On the surface, it seems that Gunn is performing fine. There have been no violent incidents between international and domestic students or overt discrimi- natory acts by teachers. However, further inspection reveals that international students are stuck socializing among themselves, both excluded and unwilling to take part in the wider community. The most striking example is how international students from China and American-born Chinese students at Gunn are socially distant; despite sharing a common heritage, it is rare to see a friend group that mixes both together. If these two groups fail to mingle, it seems unlikely that a stu- dent from a more underrepresented country, like Laos, would integrate into Gunn. Additionally, both sides are missing out on opportunities: American-born Chinese miss out on learning about their cultural heritage, while Chinese internationals miss out on American customs. Both American-born and international students should make an effort to get to know each other beyond their labels, and form closer bonds with each other.

A language and cultural barrier may impede inte- gration, preventing international students from mixing with domestic students. Breaking the language barrier requires a two-step solution: providing English transla- tion materials when necessary, and having students rec- ognize the implicit biases that come with heavy foreign accents. For example, during a chemistry test, a Korean student could have access to an English-Korean transla- tion for scientific terms. In addition, Gunn should take initiative and facilitate the adjustment of international students into the community through events that al- low international and domestic students to mingle or a mentorship program. Only then can the benefits of having international students be reaped.