Should International Students Make American Friends?

Op-Ed

A seemingly straightforward question, one does not need much pondering to confidently state that the absolute majority of people at Mac will say “Yes! Diversity! Culture!” or express similar ideas; however, I am going to add something pertaining to personal opinions, that I think it is beneficial for international students to make friends outside of the bubble spanning Summit and St. Clair.

        The lack of diversity in Macalester thwarts the chance for an international student to approach American society. Some may raise a question: “Isn’t Macalester diverse enough that you can encounter people from all around the globe?” In some aspects, like those selected statistics given in the official brochures used to attract prospective students, the answer is positive; however, the conglomeration of people in Macalester creates a momentum that suppresses diversity in a number of aspects like political thoughts, lifestyle or even Weltanschauung. Under this invisible pressure that forbids you to think differently than the mainstream, people, especially international students that come from different cultural backgrounds, may not feel welcomed by this school although there are “welcome” written in different languages on the road to Library at the beginning of each semester. Macalester, due to its lack of diversity, constantly gives me a vibe of restraint or suppression, even a bitter taste of home: I grew up in China where people autonomously repress different ideas that do not conform to the mainstream. At Macalester, you can feel the environment continues generating minor things (microaggressions, in Macalester language) that remind you of the oppression of free speech: you write an unhappy response for a seminar complaining the author was overusing political correctness to maximize her own profit because she was a minority, you see bitter comments posted online by Macalester students towards people who are “politically inactive”, and when you want to respond to someone’s mainstream opinion in class, you deliberately shut yourself up because you clearly know the whole class is going to ostracize you because of your “hateful” opinions. The “you” in the previous sentence is, in these cases, the author himself, but can be anybody who holds other opinions: these people are muffled, and the silence only cultivates the oppression in a greater extent. It is fairly uncomfortable.

        Conversely, the greater society outside of Mac does not tolerate such oppression as some may use the word “libtards” to describe the group of people who live on political correctness and the censorship originated therefrom. That means, what internationals see outside of Mac gives them a more holistic view of the American society and a better understanding of the morals, living style and controversies thereof.

        It gives me a sense of friendliness that people outside of Macalester may disagree with your opinions, but they do not have the agency nor willpower to seal your mouth. There I found people that support Trump and Republican ideas, dislike the Black Lives Matter movement, and do not endorse contemporary feminism. Certainly I do not have to identify with them but they will not shovel their words down my throat as a form of their political correctness either. Some of my lady’s friends are religiously conservative, but they bake delicious cupcakes, have long talks with me when I have a bad time at school, and are not shy to share their opinions towards some controversial issues. Talking to them is a blessing in itself although it is not comfortable at first as I stepped out of my comfort zone and start to ponder upon alternative ideas. On the contrary, it is inherently difficult to find such people at Macalester, that I have met very few. Think about Mac students’ collective opinions of the Mac GOP. That is what makes them diffident to speak for themselves, and therefore they retreat into the darkness.

        There is another reason I suggest international students to find American friends in the bigger world. It is not merely the simple existence of controversial ideas outside of Mac that attracted me; it is because the environment outside of Macalester classifies you as an individual person, not a “functional group” that is used to generate superficial diversity or monetary revenue. The school does not care about you if you are just a symbol. It can be said that Macalester largely resembles a cake where the white, middle-upper class elite people make up the foundation and the international students are the decorations on top of it lest the cake look monotonous or white-supremacist. This system here is so inherently divisive that in some official forms, international students are categorized into “another race”; even some of the critics of Macalester’s white domination failed to recognize international students as a de facto underprivileged group, that being raised in a different cultural background does not hinder your welfare at the College if your family can afford the exorbitant tuition with less financial aid. In the renowned article The Limits Of The White Institution the negligence was obvious when “The uncomfortable truth is that the students of color at Macalester are often the most privileged students of color — often international, or of international families...” which resonates with the categorization of international students into “a distinct racial context”.  

        People outside of Macalester do not treat an international student (like me) as a symbol but as a lively person between them.They never think about the fact that internationalism and diversity can be flagged as progressive. They do not see me differently as some at Mac do. At Macalester, I was told by a domestic student that I must have achieved very high scores on Fischer’s chemistry exams because I am Chinese; I heard comments from a female Chinese American (2nd generation immigrant) about Chinese internationals that they are untrustworthy because they are from China. My friends do not see me as what people in Macalester do merely because of the country I am from is different from theirs – together we go to Chipotle five minutes before it closes, attend slumber parties and vape strong smoke clouds out of the car window when driving on Interstate 35, blasting music at 1 a.m. It gives me a sense of belongingness because I am with them instead of hanging aloof by myself in the campus.

        It is an irony that the general American society is supposed to be more xenophobic and exclusive than Liberal Arts Colleges but the reality I experienced is the opposite. The fact is indeed heartbreaking as one recognizes that the school conveys hostility towards people coming from overseas, but the greater world may not impose a sense of alienation one may experience here. Therefore, I suggest international students who want to live not only just between Summit and St. Clair for four years to find some valuable companions on the larger arena – there is a whole world to explore, and you will find your space elsewhere if you cannot find it at Macalester.


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