First of all I want to give a little context to this post. I graduated from the University of Southampton in 2011 with a degree in Sociology. I am now working in the Management School as an Education and Student experience adviser I am passionate about education quality and deliverance and have interests in politics. I work closely with students every day on a range of projects. I am currently assisting in the buddy scheme the School of Management is running where 20 “buddies” or mentors are looking after over 200 first year undergraduates. I also work with the Post Graduate peer advisors and so get a wide spread opinion of experiences that international students have. While running the buddy scheme the discussion of international students and integration has been mentioned to me as an area that needs addressing properly.
After speaking with students, buddies and reading some media resources online I have decided to make a blog post about this. I would love to get students reactions to this so please post comments below with your reactions either within the blog or on Facebook. Please tell me if my notions are ill-conceived, patronising, offensive or short sighted. Equally, if you think I am right in what I am saying and can think of ways to better the lives of international students within the University of Southampton– I would also love to hear from you! I want to know student’s opinions on this so don’t hold back! I do not claim to hold all knowledge on the ups and downs of life as an international student in Southampton.
International students make up a large percentage of the Management School’s population but their view-points are not always represented adequately and I have had both international and home students suggest means of tailoring for international students within the buddy scheme that is currently running. This is difficult to do without further separating international from home students. A large part of this debate is difficult to discuss and separate the matter of race. This topic is sensitive and I do not write about it with the intention of insulting anyone.
Having spoken to students from a range of cultural backgrounds as a student, in my line of work and in social settings it has occurred to me that there may be a problem with the integration of International students with Muslim and Chinese students being particular examples mentioned to me. This is not due to the international student’s reluctance to meet people, it is mainly to do with societies, socials and the perception that British students just want to go out and drink alcohol. Before I go any further I would like to add that I am not trying to paint British students in a negative light, and much of the evidence for this is purely anecdotal either from conversations I have had with students or that colleagues have relayed to me. There is an element of respect for British students from international students, for example some international students have said they think that British students are mature, independent and capable as they are able to study and maintain a part time job.
Equally home students have expressed their admiration for international students who come to the UK to study stating that they could never make such a brave leap to leave one’s home country in search of a bright future. This mutual respect does not seem to match the contention, frustration and negativity many students, both international and local, have experienced. Many induction sessions are aimed at integrating international students – I have attended some of them. They are informal, friendly and meant to ease you into life at the University. So how come things turn sour?
When looking at the variety of socials and the prevalence of alcoholic socials I have observed that most events made available by one of the societies are alcoholic and gain the most advertising and therefore eminence. This is not the case for all management related societies, as many of them try to maintain a business like appearance and hold career events. I believe while alcoholic events may appeal to the vast majority of home students, there is little thought towards the fact that by having an alcoholic event or even having an event somewhere where they sell alcohol, some students from other countries may not even want to set foot in the venue. Societies effectively cut themselves off from a large cohort of students who want to meet people from England and other countries. There seems to be Miss-matched expectations of social interaction.
This is however, not completely the fault of the societies. There are few communal areas on campus which do not have either a bar attached to them or they are used primarily for academic events (thus making them unavailable out of hours). It is difficult to see how this could be improved without significant investment on the University which is already spending vast amount of money on building improvements.
It is interesting also to note that many events that are intended for integration, language development etc. are run by the Christian society (Christian Union) . This means that many students from other cultures may feel reluctant when attending. Although these events may have the best of intentions and be completely innocent in nature, having the religious attachment means that some people call into question whether they will meet people there who want to “convert” them.
There has also been some anecdotal evidence, all be in from post graduates I have spoken to, that British students they come into contact with have expressed their distaste at communicating with some international students because they “do not want genuine friendship, they only want to improve their English”. This is a disappointing attitude for British students to have and one I hope is uncommon. I would be interested in conducting focus groups to find out how widespread that opinion is.