HONG KONG -- Looking back on my time abroad, I can't help but think of ways it could have been better, or things I wish I'd known and done earlier. I hope by reading my suggestions, all of us at Richmond can do a better job of welcoming exchange and international students to our campus whether they are staying for a few months or a few years.
Studying abroad is always an exciting and educational experience no matter where you go. It's something that more than half of Richmond students do and even more wish they could. But have you ever thought about what it's like for someone who's studying abroad at Richmond? Being the "Hottest School for International Studies," we obviously attract many exchange students as well as international students who decide to spend all four years at Richmond. Despite their relatively large presence on a campus Richmond's size, how much are they really a part of its student body? Being abroad this semester has given me a new perspective on what it means to be an exchange student.
Does it ever seem like all the international students are hanging out together? Do you know a couple in your classes but never party with them at the apartments?
Of course, Richmond has a great international orientation program, global house, and I-Club. But what's the point of coming to America if you only wind up hanging out with a bunch of Europeans?
Even though I'm in Hong Kong, I've never met so many Scandinavians before.
I think that we as "locals" (as all the natives are affectionately known here) need to step up our efforts to welcome those who have chosen Richmond as their chance to experience America. Part of the purpose of study abroad is not only for them to take a part of our culture back to their own, but to share theirs with us while they're here. How many of us have really taken full advantage of these opportunities for cultural exchange? Those who have studied abroad know about the benefits that such an interaction can bring.
International students also offer a wonderful chance for foreign language practice. It's embarrassing how few Americans ever learn a second language. I study both French and Chinese, yet it seemed like nothing when I met a German girl who goes to Sciences Po Paris and is studying here at an English university while learning Chinese.
At the same time, interacting with exchange students doesn't require fluency in another language. As simple and subdued as Richmond seems after being here all this time, to an international student, a new campus in a new country is more confusing than being a freshman. Surprisingly, not everyone knows how swipes work at D-Hall vs. Tyler's vs. the Cellar. Even with the marvels of Facebook, not everyone is always informed of the big party this weekend. There are many aspects of college life that we "just know" and take for granted.
Initiating conversations and answering questions are just two of the easiest ways to make international students feel more at home. Exchange students probably don't have all the same extracurricular commitments as you, so why not invite them along to see what it's like?
I know that most of Richmond is from north of Maryland, but a little Southern hospitality can go a long way.
And remember, it's never too late to take advantage of these great resources, because before you know it, the semester is finished.
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