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“International College Student Experience” – updated 11/3

Written By: daveski on October 30, 2007 No Comment

On Monday this week KQED’s “Forum” had a program called “International College Student Experience”. Their guests included two local international students – Yatou Fall from Laney College and Jess Liu at Berkeley – as well as Andrew Garrod, a professor at Dartmouth who’s done some work interviewing international students about life and culture in the U.S. (book: Crossing customs: International students write on U.S. college life and culture), and Peter Van Buren, director of Education USA at the U.S. Department of State. Here’s the program, which is about 50 minutes long:

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http://kqed02.streamguys.us/anon.kqed/radio/forum/2007/10/2007-10-29b-forum.mp3

Not surprisingly, Van Buren painted a pretty rosy picture of how visa difficulties aren’t what they used to be in the immediate post 9/11 climate, and mentioned several times that the U.S. has 10 times more international students than any other country, and that California has more international students than any other state, and basically that “international exchange is a good thing.” He said that any perceived inequities in admissions standards, funding opportunities, and hiring for jobs after graduate was basically not under the control of the U.S. gov’t – these policies are “individually determined” by universities like Berkeley, he said. And socializing with American students, ‘getting the most out of’ life in the U.S., learning language and acclimating to life here is basically up to the individual initiative of international students.

The situation that Yatou Fall and Jess Liu described from first-hand experience, and that Andrew Garrod mentioned from his conversations with students at Dartmouth, seems to be a lot more complex. They described how, a lot of the time, socializing among international students is easier than building relationships with students who have grown up mostly or all in the U.S., while professors in the U.S. might be “interested” in their personal experiences individually but not particularly well informed or concerned with the histories, political or social contexts of their individual countries. The host Michael Krazny pushed the theme that international and U.S. students might have very different expectations about what a university education should be about in the first place, with U.S. students often expecting to “find themselves” in their social lives as much as anywhere else, while international students were presented as having a much clearer idea of where they came from, what they needed to do, and a sense of responsibility about the hard work it would take to achieve their goals.

How accurate are these generalizations? Are individual universities totally responsible for the quality of the experiences of international students, for setting the standards for success and failure (test requirements etc.)? Have the visa and practical training requirements really improved since 9/11? Do international and U.S. students both have to have “double vision” (a term Garrod mentioned meaning a perspective of someone living both in the U.S. and outside at the same time) in order to really understand each other? Is the idea of “finding oneself” at the university a uniquely American (U.S.) idea? And what other linguistic difficulties are there besides knowing how to respond when American students and professors ask, “How are you?”

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There’s an article in the Nov. 3 NY Times that talks in detail about expanding study abroad programs in the U.S.–6000 programs in 100 countries (!?).

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