“Cultural exchange” is defined as the mutual sharing of information between individuals of two or more cultures or cultural backgrounds.
Having a productive cultural exchange is one of my most favorite activities. It helps me understand different cultures that exist in this world, and I get to share facts and information about my own culture.
Being part of a healthy cultural exchange has undoubtedly made me a more open-minded individual and has helped get rid of stereotypes that I had about some cultures.
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However, over time, I have experienced a lack of exchange between the American students and international students at Kansas State University.
As an international student, my orientation at K-State was with students from all around the world. The first day of orientation, I met and made friends with fellow students from China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Dominican Republic, Armenia, Egypt, Ethiopia and many more. It was one of the best experiences I ever had.
Throughout my first semester, I spent a lot of time with these individuals and I learned many interesting things about their culture, and all the stereotypes I had about their home countries slowly vanished.
However, I noticed that while I made a lot of international friends, my American friends did not and chose to remain in their circle of friends.
When I first arrived at K-State, I did not make a lot of local friends. Since I would spend all the time of orientation week with other international students, it was easy to befriend them. Soon, I formed a comfort and protection zone around me that consisted of my friends from the Indian and the international community.
However, it did not feel right, since I was not receiving the exposure for which I had traveled all the way to America. It was one of the things on my bucket list: to make more local Kansan and American friends.
To achieve this goal, I broke my boundaries and expanded my horizon and started meeting people outside my comfort zone. My little effort of getting out helped me immediately, and I made numerous friends from America.
They helped me understand the life in America, living the “American Way,” how to make the best of my college life in America and how to get more involved on campus. It was one of my friends, Rajat, who introduced me to other members of the Student Governing Association, and it’s because of him and then-student senator Ryan Kelly that I received the opportunity to become an active student leader on campus.
But not everyone receives this privilege and opportunity. From my personal experience, international students are initially hesitant and nervous to start a conversation. This anxiety exists because we don’t want to offend anybody or say something that could be considered rude by the local population.
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And not all of us speak English! Some of the international students come from countries where they don’t speak English at all.
When they arrive on campus, they can barely introduce themselves, let alone start and have a productive conversation. These students have to undergo the English Language Program so they can understand their core subject classes.
The ELP classes take one to two semesters to be completed, and in this time, the students are unable to make local friends who can teach them the local way of life. They end up having a group of their own and end up living a life that does not make them feel like a part of the Wildcat family.
While some do come out of their comfort zone, for others, it’s difficult, and they think it is better to be with their old friends rather than make new friends. In the end, they don’t receive the experience and exposure to college life for which they traveled halfway across the world.
So, what can local students do to have a healthy and productive cultural exchange? It is simple. Talk!
Events and Conversation
The best way you could make anyone feel like part of the community and a part of the family is by starting conversations with them.
International students have at times lacked the feeling of being part of the K-State community and the Wildcat family. There is an overall lack of awareness about the struggles of international students on campus. As I see it, forming a friendship with an international student would be one of the best college experiences for local American students as well.
International student groups organize multiple cultural events on campus throughout the semester. Sometimes, the number of events is so big that there are two or three events per week.
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Attending these events is the best way to understand a different culture. Events like the International Coffee Hour organized by the International Coordinating Council or the International Buddies group are some of the best examples of cultural exchanges that happen on campus.
Other events such as the Indian Students Association’s Sanskriti or Holi and the Sri Lankan Students Association’s Sihasara are great opportunities to learn about the cultures of India and Sri Lanka.
Similarly, events put on by the Paraguayan Students Association, the Chinese Students Association and many more such organizations would benefit American students as these events are educational about the respective cultures. These events bridge a gap between international students and American students and help abolish stereotypes.
International student events are also a great place to make new friends, as international students attend all the events mentioned earlier. This makes it an excellent opportunity to engage with international students.
I have met so many people who said they made great friends with international students because they met them at an event. I have stories of how some local students found their soulmates and partners at these events!
Participating in activities with international students is a win-win situation, where you get to make more friends, get to know another culture and create everlasting memories.
Ways of Life
Along with that, a great way an international student can feel like they are part of the community is by helping them understand the local way of life.
When I first arrived in the United States, I did not know the difference between a penny, nickel, dime and a quarter. All I knew was the largest coin is worth 25 cents. I understood the difference when one of my local friends sat down with me and taught me.
I did not know how the U.S. government works, even after taking a political science class. My friends in SGA helped me understand more about U.S. politics and the different political branches that exist.
I did not know how to order food at a restaurant here, and I was not aware of the difference between sides and an entree. Local people helped me understand it. It made my life in the U.S. so much easier.
These are just some examples out of a billion more. By helping me understand the culture and local things, my local friends informed me about life here in Kansas and the U.S. in general. These are things I would have never understood and stayed ignorant about.
I am grateful to all my friends who helped me understand life here. If it weren’t for them, my experience would not have been so wonderful.
How You Can Help
However, the privilege I received is not what every international student gets. I made friends because I broke out of my comfort zone and went out of my way to make friends. But this is not possible for all international students.
I would suggest a few solutions for engaging with international students. First, attend international students’ events and meet them and start a conversation with them.
Second, help international students come out of their comfort zone and learn the local ways so that it is easy for them to assimilate with the US culture.
Third, understand the problems faced by international students, bring them in front of the appropriate authorities and stand in solidarity with international students as they work their way through their issues.
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To college professors and lecturers, I urge you to ask your students to engage with those out of their regular friend circle. Ask your students to make friends with students who are different from them.
There are numerous international students with incredible skills just waiting for opportunities to get involved. It is time that we help them open the doors to these opportunities!
Using these golden chances to demonstrate their skills, international students can reach beyond their potential and bring pride to all of K-State. If we could engage with international students and help them get involved on-campus, I assure you, K-State will give rise to the next great leaders who will revolutionize the world.
Do not be scared of cultural exchange! We live in a world that is at the peak of globalization. There is going to be increasing immigration and emigration, and cultures are going to be exchanged. It is time that we embrace these changes.
Let us show compassion toward those who are weak and uplift them with love. As Chinese politician Hu Jintao said, “Culture is a window reflecting the history, culture and spiritual world of a nation. … Cultural exchange is a bridge to enhance the mutual understanding and friendship between the people of different nations.”
Vedant Deepak Kulkarni is a sophomore in business administration. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.