International students, feeling disconnected, look for change

Student groups consider ways to address int’l student class experiences.

Parker Lemke

Though they share classrooms, some students feel that national origins create distance at school.

Many international students feel a lingual and cultural disconnect in the classroom when working with domestic students.

But to help alleviate the divide, student government leaders and international student groups at the University of Minnesota are trying to figure out what can be done to make foreign-born students feel more comfortable on campus.

As of fall, international students made up more than 12 percent of the undergraduate population.

During an outreach campaign to student groups last fall, international students told the Minnesota Student Association that they sometimes feel other students don’t respect them, said Abeer Syedah, MSA’s student outreach and engagement director.

“That was something that was really shocking to me,” she said.

Bach Nguyen, chief relations officer for the Vietnamese International Student Association, said many international students feel their American peers don’t value their input, which can lead them to isolate themselves within their cultural blocks.

“They don’t reach out,” Nguyen said. “They worry about the language barrier.”

Although he said he hasn’t had problems in class himself, Nguyen said his international student friends have discussed feeling left out when working on group projects.

“She said they don’t really listen to her opinions,” Nguyen said of a friend’s experience. “She said whenever she says something, voices her opinion, no one listens to her. They just kind of ignore her.”

Because of these experiences, international students are more comfortable and confident when talking among peers from their home countries, said Tram Vu, a relations coordinator for the Minnesota International Student Association.

Students who confine themselves to their native cultures can lose out on important social experiences, said Roberth Garcia, a finance junior from Brazil and president of the Latino International Student Association.

“International students come to the United States to get an American experience, an American education,” he said, adding that domestic students can also learn new perspectives through interacting with peers from other countries.

MSA met with MISA last year and discussed the treatment of international students in classrooms, Vu said, but she doesn’t think there’s an end-all solution.

“It’s a problem with both sides,” Vu said, adding that she tries pairing with partners in classrooms outside her friend circle. “People need to be more open.”

MSA is still working on how to address international students’ concerns, Syedah said.

Some international students say events that attract all groups on campus may help solve the problem.

MISA hosts events like Feast of Nations and International Music Night that promote multicultural interactions, Vu said.

These types of events can help bridge the gap and ease misunderstandings, Nguyen said. Domestic students typically make up about 30 percent of the turnout at his group’s events, he said.

“We always invite both international and domestic students to come to our events, so we can kind of promote the beauty of the culture,” Nguyen said. “We just have a different way of thinking, a different way of looking at things and different points of view.”