The Collegian
Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Burst the bubble without even leaving it

This article is dedicated to an underappreciated part of the Richmond student body: the international students.

I've heard people complain about Richmond being too small, the days too repetitive, the people too similar and the overall atmosphere of the "bubble" too suffocating.

I think people often forget, however, that new exchange students arrive each semester and some with each new freshman class who can't possibly fit into the typical Richmond student mold, each one of them bringing a little part of another country and another culture with them.

Overall, international students from 70 countries represent about 6 percent of the student body. For a break from the norm and a whole new perspective on Richmond, I'd highly recommend spending some time with these people.

For starters, talking to them is like a study abroad experience without ever having to leave campus.

Not only do these people bring new knowledge about other countries, but they have enabled me to see Richmond - and America, even - through a different set of eyes.

I remember a few of my French and Italian friends telling me that grinding at the lodges - something most American Richmonders pretty much take for granted - seemed shockingly upfront and sexual (though they weren't complaining).

Others from the group said they'd go to clubs and dance like that when they were 14 or 15 years old, but couldn't believe people still did it in college.

Internationals from France, Italy, Spain and Pakistan were surprised by the college drinking as well. In France and Italy there is no drinking age, and in Spain it's 18 years old.

Many Europeans grow up drinking casually with their parents, so it doesn't become such a big deal to get drunk. In Pakistan, alcohol is illegal because it's a Muslim country, so it's not so easy to just pick up a case from the grocery store.

In America, they said it seemed like college students were desperate to get drunk. Chugging and keg stands were a whole new concept for them.

On the other hand, many of the Europeans stressed how much better American college life was than European university life, raving about Richmond's gym, D-Hall, dorms, parties and even the library.

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter

They explained that at most European colleges the students don't live or party on campus, and there definitely aren't sororities or fraternities.

I remember on the last day of last semester one of my Italian friends ate spoonful after spoonful of peanut butter because it wasn't available in Italy.

In this way, interacting with the internationals caused me to re-examine aspects of Richmond and American culture that I'd never really given a second thought to before.

Their excitement about things as seemingly insignificant as peanut butter gave me a new appreciation for certain aspects of American culture and even incited some unexpected excitement in me to show them more of my country and my college.

On a more serious note, many of the Europeans shared with me their pre-conceived stereotypes about Americans: They thought we would all be fat and ignorant.

Although they admitted that a college campus isn't a good representation of the rest of the United States, they said they were pleasantly surprised when they came to Richmond and their stereotypes were disproved.

Many of them said that though many people associated these unflattering ideas with Americans, almost everyone wanted to come to America.

"When I told my friends I was going they were like, 'Damn, you're so lucky,'" said Maxence Decarre, who's here for a year from Viry, France. "When you look at movies like 'American Pie,' it's the cliche of college life in America, and everybody wants to go experience that."

I spoke in depth with mostly European exchange students, but there are people at this school from all over the world.

I have a friend from Botswana who taught me about the foreign policy and racism in his country, and one from Nigeria who is trying to start a school back at home where people can attend for free because of the extreme poverty there.

My friend from Pakistan described to me the muezzin's call to prayer he heard each morning outside his window at home, and even taught me a few words in Urdu.

Overall, spending time with the international students has been a little breather from daily Richmond life. More than that though, I think I've become so much more aware of what's going on and how people are living in other parts of the world.

Nevertheless, these little anecdotes are just the opinions and perspectives of a few people who I've talked to in my two years here at Richmond.

The information that I've shared, in turn, is only an abbreviated version of everything I've learned from these people.

I think that's the point though. This is just my experience. There are so many more people out there who have different outlooks on the world, and it's fascinating to become acquainted with ones so different from those most of us have been surrounded by all along.

I'm going to Europe for only the second time next semester, but I feel like I've already spent years in each country on the continent. (Okay, maybe an exaggeration, but you get my point.)

I'm definitely ready to combat the ignorant American stereotype, and I plan to drop all preconceived notions of France before I even enter the country.

For anyone not going abroad: Try having a conversation with one of our international students.

Not only can they teach you a word or two of another language, but I think they can provide a peephole out of our little bubble to the rest of the world outside, vast as it is.

Talking to these people can really expand our horizons and open our eyes to the fact that Richmond students are really not all as similar as one might think.

Support independent student media

You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking the button below, which takes you to our secure PayPal account. The page is set up to receive contributions in whatever amount you designate. We look forward to using the money we raise to further our mission of providing honest and accurate information to students, faculty, staff, alumni and others in the general public.

Donate Now