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Letter to the Editor: Acceptance of international students starts with peers

A month ago, The Chronicle published an op-ed titled “International students left to fend for themselves at Hofstra University.” I am an international student here at Hofstra, and I would like to disagree. The problems outlined in the article are real and need to be addressed, but they are not the university’s fault. Would it be nice to have more programs, more tutors, more global mentors and advisors? Sure. But more services don’t help if people don’t utilize the ones that already exist. And at Hofstra, services and programs for international students are abundant. As a global mentor who welcomes incoming foreign students to Hofstra, and an international student myself, I have benefitted from the countless programs organized by the International Student Affairs (ISA) office. Apart from international orientation and the sometimes tedious, but mandatory, visa workshops mentioned in the article, the office organizes events for students to learn more about the U.S. as well as foreign cultures, to play sports together and make friends. Beyond that, the international students club, H*INT, puts on weekly club meetings and events, and the Saltzman Center has organized an international student support group. Additionally, English tutors, the Writing Center and the supportive staff at the ISA office are all here to help international students succeed at Hofstra.

So why do students like the author of the op-ed still feel alienated? Maybe, because on paper we are aliens not citizens, we are foreigners not nationals. Because, no matter how well we do in class and how hard we work on our English, we will be granted with the unprompted assurance not to worry, we speak well “for a non-native speaker.” And students, such as some of my mentees, who are still struggling with their English, are often faced with impatience and even ignorance when trying to reach out to others. Maybe because often, the first thing we are asked once someone hears our accent is “where are you from?” as if that is more important than what we were actually going to say. Because we have to bring along our national identity for show-and-tell, are expected to be defensive, diplomatic and apologetic at once about whatever our home country has done. And maybe, because on the 8th of November 2016, my friends and I sat in silence in front of our TV, and we had never felt as foreign as then.

These issues and attitudes that international students encounter make life at Hofstra and in the U.S. more difficult. However, this is not because Hofstra does not care for or about students like me. And this does not negate the wonderful memories we make, the things we learn nor the lifelong friendships we form while studying and living abroad.

This is not on Hofstra. This is on us, as individuals. On the students – international and domestic alike – the professors and the administrators. We don’t need more services to be created, we need to attend more of the ones that already exist. We need to be curious about each other, but not presumptuous. We need to remind ourselves that foreign students have different needs and opportunities – we, for example, can’t work off-campus, but we also have different talents. Hofstra has over a thousand international students; we are a resource. So engage with us. Talk to us. Be patient with our accents and our questions, our confusion when ordering in the Student Center and our excitement about the size of Walmart and Target (they are like mini malls, seriously). We will also be patient and we will be brave. Sometimes, crossing the classroom to ask the professor or another student a question is harder than crossing the Atlantic or Pacific was for us when we came, but we will keep doing so. And we will share our story by consent, but not on demand. Because in times when difference is disapproved of, diversity needs to be celebrated. What better place to start than right here, on our campus?

This letter was written in response to the op-ed “International students left to fend for themselves at Hofstra University,” originally published by The Hofstra Chronicle on March 7, 2017.

The The views and opinions expressed in the Editorial section are those of the authors of the articles. They are not an endorsement of the views of The Chronicle or its staff. The Chronicle does not discriminate based on the opinions of the authors.

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