Park: Inclusively International

by Annika Park | 9/25/14 5:23pm

I recently arrived to Dartmouth as a part of the Class of 2018 — my first time in the U.S. Despite the warm welcome that most at Dartmouth provided, I could not rid myself of the impression that the College considers international students a commodity rather than an addition, an extension rather than a part of the community.

International students make up 8.3 percent of the Class of 2018 and hail from everywhere between Bangladesh to Venezuela. Each international student undergoes a special orientation, which allows them to get their heads around issues that pertain to them — American students probably don’t need to know about complex visa processes on how to avoid deportation. This is certainly useful information for international students, and in that way, our separate orientation is beneficial. However, sidled next to the practical information, international student orientation conveys a problematic message.

International students are told from the outset that people will “love us” because everybody “loves international students,” that international students are “special.” This special attention prevents us from properly assimilating to Dartmouth culture. The College decisively frames international students as the quintessential well-rounded, culturally aware and socially active citizens of the world. I feel valued for being an addition and extension to the College rather than a part of it. I fear that this message will be internalized by my fellow international ’18s, and that we will see ourselves as fundamentally apart from the rest of our classmates.

My idea of an education at Dartmouth involves intense academic stimulation, athletic activity, outdoor expeditions, participation in singing and dancing groups, working on school publications — all things international students cannot do if we are encouraged to live in an international bubble and perceive ourselves as dignified citizens of the world who only participate in grand and idealistic activities.

Structural hurdles compound these issues of perception and have the power to reinforce them. Unfortunately, these hurdles can prevent international students from fully joining the rest of the Dartmouth community. Our D-Plans and visas make staying on during sophomore summer very difficult. The F-1 and J-1 visas require that we stay on for three consecutive terms before becoming eligible for a leave term, which effectively binds us to a typical summer-free schedule. Because of visa regulation issues, we have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to fill leave terms with jobs and internships (whether in the U.S. or abroad). Everyday annoyances also remind me as an international student that I am a foreigner — however celebrated — in America. Over the next four years here, I will face limited employment opportunities; the student employment services website reminds us with bold-faced words that we can only work for Dartmouth. If I want to drive out of Hanover, I will worry about explaining to law enforcement that I am not a citizen and feel the abject fear of explaining where I come from.

American students at Dartmouth don’t have to suffer from these problems, so I suppose in that way international students are “special.” Past that, we are no more special than an American student — we are here for the same reasons, and Dartmouth is our home, too. The College should recognize that instead of reinforcing our supposed specialness, which I know has made me at least feel needlessly objectified since I arrived.

Fortunately, I have not felt this same sense of objectification outside of the administrative realm. I have felt so included by my floormates and other non-international ’18s, with their genuine attempts to welcome me to the U.S. I have enjoyed their endearing looks as they would correct my “petrol station” to “gas station” and excitedly comment on how they must be there when I see snow for the first time. But the effort cannot be theirs alone. Just as the College and American students must look past our differences, our “specialness,” international students must make a concerted effort to become a part of Dartmouth culture — we cannot let anyone, including ourselves, treat us like we’re just an extension to the Big Green world.

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