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What is Internationalization? As in international student and the beat reporter for international life at Allegheny, I’m still not entirely sure. What I do know is that we have an International Teaching Circle, that meets to discuss the idea of internationalization at Allegheny. How do I know this? I was recently invited to attend a meeting this Wednesday, where the committee invited some students who had participated in study abroad programs and some international students to attend. In total, four students attended the meeting, I was the only international representative.
Before the meeting, we were all emailed a list of focus questions for us to think about and offered the chance to go into the international office to prepare our answers if we liked. There was a set of questions for students who had studied abroad and a slightly altered set for international students like myself. Both sets centered around describing our experiences and focused on how we incorporated our experience into life at Allegheny.
I found that the most interesting question that came up during the discussion however, regarded the connection between the international community (both international and study abroad students) and the rest of the student body. This is something that I’ve encountered in my own personal experience but also in stories I’ve written about international students this year. Many of them have noted how wonderful the international community at Allegheny is, but mentioned how difficult it can be to get to know or to fit in with the domestic students (for lack of a better word).
It’s true. The international community is great. The international students we have this year act like one family. They support each other, attend each others events and do almost everything together. They are supported by the International Office and have nothing but praise for international life here. Where the struggle comes from is a lack of cross-pollination. If you go to an international hosted event, it is often rare to find a large number of domestic students in attendance. American students who live in the language houses, or take a language, or maybe who have studied abroad, are usually the only representatives of the main student body.
Take this week for example. This week is International Education Week and the International Office had organized events throughout the week to celebrate. One of these was a dodgeball tournament on Tuesday night which was organized with the help of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. It’s aim was to bring the student-athlete and the international communities together. Talk to anyone and they will tell you that the event was great. However as well as trying to bring the two communities together, the event also reinforced the divide that I talked about earlier. If you looked carefully at the sidelines, you could see mostly international students talking to international students and student-athletes talking to student-athletes.
Now I know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. You can’t put 60 people together for one hour and expect that everyone will leave there as lifelong best friends. However the seclusion of the two communities, however subconscious it may be, is something that Allegheny needs to be thinking about, particularly in any discussions about internationalization. It’s not just about sending students abroad, or bringing students here. There needs to be a thought process for how we help international students integrate themselves into the Allegheny student body as a whole.
I’m lucky. As a four-year student I get the best of both worlds, but it’s not as easy for the students who are only here for a year or six months…and it should be. Sure, these students will have made great international friends, and probably be able to travel around the world with a place to stay on every continent, but they came to America for a reason. They have come all this way to experience college in America. To experience American life, food and make American friends. But often they struggle to integrate themselves in the domestic student body – which kind of defeats the purpose of them coming, doesn’t it?