There are always one or two barriers that threaten the smooth-flowing process of transition and adjustment. This is especially true for international students who go abroad for university but find themselves quite unable to establish a grounded identity, both in their academic life and their social life. There is a constant balancing of scales where one side is weighed down by identity, values and norms unique to a specific cultural influence, and on the other side is the struggle of needing to adapt to an alien environment.
It’s my second year here at UEA and I still catch myself in situations where I am reminded of my minority status as an international student and unfortunately, to say that more than half of those experiences made me uncomfortable would be a big understatement. Whether it is receiving a backhanded compliment from a member of staff marveling at how my English is, “so good…for an international student” (I still remember her comically shocked face as she said this), or a warning that came with a concerned expression at how, “extremely competitive” it is when I asked a Professor about the upcoming summer internships at an international students welcome event. I have to admit I would always feel a strong urge to bolt out the door at lighting speed whenever these things happened.
Several weeks ago, I sat in a seminar class surrounded by local students and had the opportunity to discuss two proposed solutions for racial discrimination and racism: multiculturalism or colour-blindness? As an international student and a member of an ethnic minority group, I felt compelled to speak but I also remember a dreadful feeling of being the one to provide a spotlight on the elephant in the room. A spotlight that felt too small for a problem that’s too big because it’s been allowed to brew underneath our noses for too long.
To this day, I still haven’t got the answer but after some thinking and a series of hushed conversations with other international students, this is what I can offer for now. Colour-blindness is just another coat of fresh paint that gives a layer of protection to those who wish to continue to live in their bubble. It bestows upon them more power and reason to cling onto their right to remain silent. All that for what? Perhaps to spare them their blushes.
In addition to individual efforts to bridge the gap between international students and local students, I also call upon the university to address the issue that is very well within their reach. Although it is impossible to hold the university accountable for the way people socialise, I strongly support the view that the university plays a crucial role in creating a safe and harmonious learning atmosphere from which international students are expected to work alongside local students.