Cross-Cultural Communication

by Tianhang Dong | 4/26/16 5:06pm

When we first meet someone new, especially at the beginning of college, the question we often ask after learning his or her name is “Where are you from?” This is likely because discussions about hometowns, shared cultures, mutual connections or friends, can be wonderful icebreakers when trying to get to know someone.

This is exactly what we did during my first tennis P.E. class this term, — we kept true to this pattern, going aroundwent around in a circle saying our names and hometowns. My instructor, a senior, said he remembers every single city and town he has been to in his life. He can always think of some of his acquaintances living in those towns, or a specific memory of an experience he had there.

Typically, the majority of students will say that they’re from somewhere in the United States — Boston, New York, Los Angeles. Occasionally people will say somewhere a bit less common, such as Colorado or Virginia. Then I say I am from China. Some eyebrow raises usually meet my response.

Although my tennis instructor did not know my exact hometown, he still managed to throw out some fun facts about China. Usually when people ask me about my hometown, I say “northeastern China” or just “Manchuria,” a historical term that seems to be more recognizable. On my second day on campus this fall, I met a fellow student’s grandfather who remembered the name Manchuria perfectly — “My family fled to the U.S. through Siberia and Manchuria!” he exclaimed to me.

Part of the reason why Dartmouth accepts international students perhaps is to create a diverse environment in which students can expand their horizons. Without direct contact, it can be difficult for someone to sympathize with the way others live in other parts of the world. The same applies to many international students, which is oftentimes why we chose to go abroad for college.

Gemma Bautisa ’19 , originally from Brisbane, Australia, explained that this was her impetus behind coming to college in the U.S.

“I choose to study abroad because I am really interested in other cultures around the world, especially American culture,” Bautista said.

Ji Yun Sung ’18 , originally from Seoul, Korea, expressed a similar sentiment about wanting to diversify her own life and connections by coming to Dartmouth. She said that she has especially enjoyed having friends of diverse nationalities and backgrounds here.

People like Bautista and Sung, who hope to utilize college time as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to explore the multiplicity of this world, are no minority on campus. In the class of 2019, 9 percent % of the student body is comprised of international students. In other words, there is one international students amongin every 11 students.

Many said they fit in without too much difficulty, including Bautista. She feels Dartmouth’s inclusive environment for international students helps them to assimilate into its culture, but part of the burden does fall on students’ shoulders.

“But you have to make the effort,” Bautista said. She noted that being on the field hockey team here has helped her adjust.

However, students explained that they did encounter some distinct cultural differences here from their homelands.

For example, although political correctness is often highly valued in people’s speech in America, certain topics may not be as sensitive in other countries. Bautista explained that she has to watch herself sometimes with what is socially appopriate to discuss.

“Sometimes I will say something I just used to say in Australia,” said Bautista. “And I just realize that I cannot say it here because it will offend someone. Although nothing bad has really happened, I still have to be careful.”

Learning the appropriate implication of certain words seems to be another step in fitting in the American culture.

Students noted that international student orientation did highlight this. Sung explained that the orientation included a speech in which people asked each other “wrong questions,” followed by explanations of why they may be inappropriate.

Nevertheless, students said d there is still a lot the administration Dartmouth couldan do much more to ameliorate the cultural communication between the College and international students and aspects of the United States. their hometowns.

Shivang Sethi ’17 , originally from New Delhi, India, said that although the student body is very accepting of and curious about international students’ backgrounds, there’s more the administration can do to help.

For example, during his freshman summer Sethi went on a study abroad program in Scotland. He explained that applying to a visa can be difficult for international students as it requires travel and most freshmen don’t have access to a car.

“Occasionally you have to go down to Manchester to apply for a visa,” Sethi said. “But who’s going to drive you there? We are all kind of stuck at Dartmouth.”

Sethi also noted there’s a lot of room for improvement with international student orientation.

“We should have more time to spend with our international mentors, and also they need to work more on explaining how the school system works,” Sethi said. “For example, the D-Plan for international students is pretty inflexible and I didn’t feel well-informed [about that] before I arrived at here.”

However, Sethi explained that his brother was attending Brown University at the time, which helped him adjust more easily. Having friends or family in the U.S. can not only be comforting, but can also help students assimilate to American culture more easily.

Noah Lee ’18 , who is from Korea, pointed out another issue for international students: the College ending its need-blind policy for international students beginning with the class of 2020. The College moved to a “need-aware” policy, replacing the need-blind policy of the past eight years.

“I was an SAT tutor in Korea and I used to encourage other students to apply to Dartmouth because it was need-blind,” Lee said. “But I cannot say the same now.”

Chi Pham ’17 , originally from from Vietnam and president of the International Student Association, and Sethi explained that she thinks the change will discourage international students from applying to the College. She said this is unfortunate, as we alreadyt have the lowest rate of international students in all of all the Ivy League schoolsSethi and Phamopined that overall, the international student body should be more cohesive. They said that although ISA tries to do this, students often self-segregate according to their home countries.

“Besides being tiny, [the] international student body is further fragmented into many small groups,” Pham said.

Although these groups — most of which are based on countries — are very robust individually, Pham believes that if ISA could bond them together, international students as a whole will have a much stronger voice. Currently, she noted, But ISA only connects these communities very loosely,she said.

“We are trying to make a bridge between different groups and unite the influence of all these groups as a whole, while still preserving the independency of each one of them,” Pham said..

She believes that these movements will elevate interconnectedness of international students, and will also allow American students greater access to the community.