A Whole New World: Empathy for the International Student Experience


            Over 6,000.

            That is the number of international students on the IU Bloomington campus, and while that figure is approximately 14% of the overall student body, I have noticed that far less than 14% of my friends and acquaintances are international students. Given my ethnic Chinese background and the fact that I can—to an extent—hold my own in Chinese conversations, this has been a matter of personal disappointment for me.

            But it’s not just me. For the past semester here at IU, I can’t help but notice a divide between American and international students, often with little interaction between the two groups. One of the groups I am a part of on campus, the Hutton Honors Council Association, recently hosted an event where American students helped serve a Thanksgiving meal to international students, and a lot of the international students who attended mentioned the difficulties of getting to know somebody over a cultural and language barrier.

            But despite all the differences between us, ultimately, we’re still all college students trying to make the most of our years here while avoiding our 8 AM classes as much as possible. However, since it’s probably more difficult for them to reach out to us—I’m planning on studying in Spain this summer, and I’m slowly starting to understand how intimidating it would be to strike up a conversation in a language you don’t know well—here are some tips for how to get things rolling with that student who sits next to you in class:

1.     IU Basketball – no need for language to cheer on your Hoosiers! The World Cup and Olympics have shown that a love of sports can transcend any language barrier, and from my personal experiences, many of the international students here know more about Yao Ming or Jeremy Lin than I ever thought possible.

2.     Study buddy – Everybody loves to complain and vent about their classes, and chances are that if you aren’t learning much from your professor, international students aren’t either. And while international students tend to struggle more with and need your help on humanities-related classes, the math and science knowledge most of them have can often be a godsend when you’re freaking out over your calculus or econ problem sets the night before it’s due.

Everybody always says to take advantage of your four years here, and while that can sometimes be construed to refer to more…hedonistic…activities, don’t forget that college is a unique opportunity to meet people you never could have otherwise. My experiences in Kelley have ingrained the importance of networking into my mind, body, and soul, and while connecting with all 6,000+ students might be a bit challenging, it really isn’t that hard to reach out to that person from India or Korea who sits next to you in math.

- Henry Zhu 

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