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Can international Students Make NYU Their Home?

NYU promises to provide its international students a home away from home. But does the university keep to its word? 


As an international student, I can attest to the fact that adjusting to college itself at NYU and New York hasn’t been the easiest. When I feared I wouldn’t find friends or anyone I could relate to, I reassured myself with facts. There are around 50,000 students in the university and over 6,000 freshmen, so why would it be hard for me to find the right people?


After Welcome Week simmered down, the connections that I thought were going to go somewhere didn’t. However, I was happy to have gotten closer to my floor. I didn’t stop trying to meet new people though : I always said hi to the people sitting next to me, attended international student meetings, and signed up for fun and mostly random clubs. All of this eventually culminated into me finding a few really good friends.


However, a thought occurred to me when I looked at all the friends I had made. Most of my friends were international students, only a few were American.


But why? NYU made itself to be reflective of the highly integrated, globalized world we live in today. When I looked at my friends, it only felt partially true.

I discussed this with my international friends, and this reality wasn’t unique to me. But do all other international students find it difficult to connect with Americans?


Kavya Mohan (CAS’21) suggests that becoming friends with Americans isn’t hard, as it “ultimately comes down to whether you get along [with them] regardless of their nationality”. However, she adds, “But then again my closest friends are international students by chance most likely because they’re easier to connect to and share similar experiences, and international kids tend to have a broader understanding of the world than Americans”.


Shromona Mandal (LS’21) has had extreme experiences, as she’s met Americans with “an America First attitude” who “say things like they want America to be a superpower”. These instances seem unlikely to happen in such an accepting environment as that of NYU, but it can be the unfortunate reality at times.


Kathy Xu (CAS‘21) further expresses that “There aren’t much common interests. For instance, I don’t watch American TV shows”. She also mentions the minute differences in our everyday lives, such as using Fahrenheit or Celsius, miles or kilometers can make a big difference, and later adds how how there are various “culture shocks” as well, for example, in “the dating culture”.  


Kavya, Shromona and Kathy highlight a few dimensions of disconnect between international and domestic students. It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact source of this polarization, however it could be attributed to the fact that there’s an overall lack of awareness and understanding.

It’s completely understandable why Americans wouldn’t comprehend the perspective of an international student because these two groups have disparate experiences. Alejandra Arevalo (CAS‘21) says that we have “different perspectives about important things in life, such as relationships, life goals, what’s fun”. Although these distinctions might exist amongst international and domestic students, Shromona believes that “it isn’t particular hard to connect with Americans who recognize that aspects of life here aren’t necessarily givens everywhere else and sometimes the dynamics of conversing are a little different, but these are pretty easily overcome among NYU kids”.  


Alejandra’s statement suggest that there might be domestic students who might not grasp the struggles of adapting to a completely different culture, the lack of opportunity for financial aid, the complex and strict immigration and working regulations, or even the time differences with our parents. However, Shromona’s perspective gives hope to the situation, as it shows that there are Americans who are considerate about these differences.


My American friends are quite understanding of the complications and pitfalls of being an international student. They’re also curious about my experiences in Dhaka, Jakarta and Dubai. However, not everyone can be as lucky as me when interacting with domestic students.


The issue is that when some people do try to learn more about the international student experience, they’re quick to paint a preconceived image of us.


They exoticize our cultures. We want everyone to know that the UAE isn’t all burqas, Japan isn’t all geishas, Brazil isn’t all carnival workers.


They criticize us for being closest to those from our hometowns. We hang out with people from the same country, or of the same ethnicity, because there are simply no barriers to overcome, and it’s easier to connect with one another.


They want us as their token international friend. We’re not here to be a friend who can be used to give the illusion of knowledge of where we’re actually from.

It’s difficult to avoid an Us versus Them rhetoric, because that’s honestly how it feels sometimes. In order to overcome such a damaging mentality, there has to be proper recognition of what life is like for an international student. We don’t expect Americans to understand every single aspect of our lives, because that’s unrealistic, we just expect a greater effort to do so.


Relationships between international kids and Americans however, can’t be forced. This has to be an organic process because otherwise the connections will remain superficial or short-lived. Since we’re all here at NYU for its promise to make college the best four years of our lives, the school should take greater initiative to forge empathy between us.


NYU has had great initiatives, such as the international student center, mentor programs or international student council which hosts exciting and culturally aware events for international students. I often seek out these opportunities to meet new people and feel at home, which I truly appreciate. Kavya adds that “I think they’re doing as good a job as they can”. However, Shromona believes that although there have been efforts to “reach out”, the “international community is extremely diverse by itself so that’s hard to do.”


Shromona also thinks that “NYU could improve integration for international students by providing certain standardized services like storage facilities in the summer and a Wasserman campus jobs section specific to the F-1/J-1 visa status as a component of the workshops they hold.”


Alejandra highlights that it’s important that NYU hosts “social events” that encourage both international and domestic students to mix. Shromona agrees that there should be “an emphasis on inclusion of non-American identities in ALL people of color conversations”. The issue right now is that there still aren’t events, groups or programs which includes both Americans and international students. If there aren’t avenues to deepen the relationship between the two groups, it’s exhausting to do so by ourselves.


The divisions between international students and Americans can’t be resolved with one program or one event, it can only be the product of continued endeavour to make NYU everyone’s home.

#NYUInternationalStudents #InternationalStudents

Images: Thumbnail, 1/2/3/4

Fareeha is majoring in Economics and Public Policy at CAS and only has two more years to go at NYU! Originally, she’s from Bangladesh, a country known for its breathtaking natural beauty and torrential monsoon rains. But she spent a few years in the hot, humid climate of Dubai and on the coastal city of Jakarta. On Her Campus, she writes what she's passionate about; everything from crazy politics to pop culture.
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