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Miami should push greater assimilation for foreign students

By Kirsten Haller, For The Miami Student

College is about getting a higher education. At least that is the term that it has become synonymous with when referring to post-high school plans. To me it means that you finally get to leave the busy work and mandated curriculums and educate yourself holistically. University classrooms are supposed to foster curiosity, teamwork, leadership and a myriad of personal betterment … supposed to.

Though Miami does a superior job of this in general, they are not utilizing a key resource that is right in front of them, sitting in classrooms every day: the international student population.

Observationally, in classrooms and lecture halls, there is a clear social barrier between international students and U.S. students. Groups chosen by the discretion of students will form based on language and social perception. Logically, this seems more comfortable and productive, but instead, puts every student involved at a disadvantage.

I hear xenophobic comments toward international students nearly every day on campus, ranging from criticisms based on what they perceive to be socially unacceptable actions to the manner in which some students choose to dress. This ethnocentric behavior stems from one thing: ignorance.

It is so easy to judge what we do not understand and it is a natural part of being human. But this inherent behavior built on years of complicated cultural, socioeconomic and historical factors can be broken down by simple education. Instead of individuals making asinine assumptions, they can take the time to learn about how other cultures operate and grow personally.

Personal growth is what higher education is all about and why a lot of us are here at Miami. We are given hundreds of clubs to expand and foster our interests, group challenges in classes to model similar challenges in the work force, and eccentric, sometimes insufferable roommates teach us how to compromise with difficult people. Along with countless other opportunities and trials, they are part of the college experience.

But, the classrooms are missing this vital chance for personal growth. The real world is not going to be filled with carbon copies of people who mirror your own gender, religion, race, ethnicity, values and thoughts. You are going to have challenges with people, given you do not choose a career path that involves living under a rock. Differences in upbringing, language barriers, ethical dilemmas and the struggle to compromise are part of living in a diverse world.

These challenges in diversity are muted within in our community that is somewhat notorious for having such a homogenous student body. It is evident for many on this campus that the skills necessary to interact and work with students so different from themselves by the lack of communication and relationships are underdeveloped.

This semester, one of my professors did something that made me think. We were working in assigned groups for a discussion on the economic logistics of computer chips and part way through he interjected, "speak slowly if you have an international student in your group and make sure to let them speak as well." And it worked; the quiet Chinese girl in my group who had never talked up until that point spoke and actually contributed with valuable information about her culture. And my professor had facilitated it all. He had helped break down the barrier and address the difference.

It is not only students that are often uncomfortable with the cultural differences. Professors commonly seem inept when trying to communicate with international students and their actions lead down the same road of those students being essentially ignored.

All it would take is addressing the obvious differences directly and engaging students in a larger conversation about diversity. The university needs to push for all professors to actively encourage the personal development of their students and give them opportunities to build the social skills necessary to communicate even through prominent cultural differences.