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One advantage of college is getting to meet people from all over the world. At first, it is thrilling and, of course, it feels good to know someone from a different country. But you may forget that they aren’t domestic students and you may be less cautious about the things you say to them. So I am here to help by giving you a few tips on what you shouldn’t say to international students. 

“Do you know my high school pen pal who is also from your country?”

It is ridiculous to assume that everyone in a country is familiar with each other. Most countries have millions of people. How can you expect an international student to know everyone? You don’t even know all the people in your state, so why do you imagine international students will know all the people in their country? Instead, you can say, “Oh, I once had a friend who was also from your country.”

“Stop complaining about the food, you’re privileged.”

It is difficult to adapt to a new culture. Food is part of the culture, so the meals served at the dining hall might not be similar to what international students are used to eating at home. When they complain about the lack of spice or too much spice, remember that most times they do not mean the dining staff is incompetent. It’s just not what they’re used to. 

“You have an accent.”

You have an accent, too. Telling an international student they have an accent is assuming that your country’s accent is the standard the world should follow. It might seem like no big deal to you, but as an international student, it is annoying when people point out your accent. It’s even worse when you proceed to try to guess the country they’re from. Accents do not determine the country someone is from and accents can be similar. Stop, because it’s embarrassing and frustrating. Instead, you can politely point out that their accent is different from yours and ask what country they are from.

“Do you know what this is?”

Stop explaining every little detail to an international student. Just because their first language might not be English does not mean they are less smart or more sheltered than you. If they could write an essay that got them into a US college, assume they might have an idea of what is trending in the world. If they do not, then you can explain it to them without sounding like you are explaining the solar system to a five-year-old. 

“What political party do you align with?”

Yes, most people love to make friends with people who have the same views as them, but you have to remember that American politics is not the same as world politics. It is a bit self-centered to believe that an international student should be involved in American politics when you are not involved in theirs. Instead of asking what political party they align with, ask what their political views are.

This article is not intended to make you feel bad. We all make mistakes, that’s why we are constantly learning. I hope you become more conscious when conversing with international students. Hopefully, a friendship will bloom from these conversations!

If you would like to write for Her Campus Mount Holyoke, or if you have any questions or comments for us, please email [email protected]

Hi there! I am a Mount Holyoke student who is an ABBA enthusiast. I love binge-watching multiple shows, eating cereal, and scrolling through Tiktok. I hope to have a collection of ABBA, The Beatles, and Queen merch before I am 21. I also consider myself to be a very funny Nigerian feminist.
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