Culture Immersion and Reflection for International Students

By Natalie Chak

[3 minute read]

This past January, two professors at Duke University expressed concern over Chinese students speaking loudly in their mother tongue on campus. This led the Director of Graduate Studies to send an email to all international students reminding them of the “unintended consequences” that come with speaking their mother tongue in their academic building and other professional settings. The email went viral immediately and sparked outrage from students across the nation. The Director of Graduate Studies issued an apology and stepped down from her role shortly after.

This particular incident reflects the stigma that many international students face today. Of course, speaking in a native language is one way for international students to find comfort in a foreign place. Unfortunately, emails like the one described above and current policies are the reasons why international students feel uncomfortable speaking their own language or even eating native foods; they are fearful of further perpetuating existing stereotypes that are often associated with different races.

Photo by Andrew Stutesman on Unsplash

This is a shame—international students should never have to feel embarrassed or insecure embracing their own culture in this country, especially not on college campuses with large international populations like Duke or USC. As members of the USC community, we should all encourage each other to celebrate different cultures. There are so many great cultural organizations on campus that allow us to learn from, celebrate, and embrace cultures from all over the world. I would encourage everyone to check out the numerous cultural events that happen on campus weekly, regardless of your race; it is through this exchange of different cultures that we are able to further enrich our college experience and broaden our understanding of the world.

That being said, while embracing your own culture is most definitely very important, as international students, we should also remind ourselves of the reason we chose to study abroad. I’m sure many of us came partly to experience the local culture as well as experience new and unfamiliar ones. It is not uncommon for us international students to stick to each other because we find security and familiarity in each other; however, by reaching out to local students or other students from drastically different backgrounds, you can usually gain very rewarding experiences.

College is, after all, about stepping out of your comfort zones and there are simple ways to do this. One easy way is to simply join the countless interest groups (not just cultural ones) at USC. Ever since coming to USC all the way from Hong Kong last fall, I’ve joined cultural groups like the Chinese American Student Association (CASA), as well as interest groups that allow me to further explore my interests in film and current affairs. As a result, I’ve been able to not only find comfort in tourers who share my similar background, but also connect with others through our shared passions despite the different places that we all come from. It can be scary to step out of your comfort zone, yet by doing so we allow ourselves to understand that we are really not that different from each other after all.

Featured image by Sebastiano Piazzi on Unsplash

Natalie is a USC student majoring in Political Economy and possibly minoring in Cinema and Media Studies. She is born and raised in Hong Kong so she also speaks fluent Cantonese and Mandarin. At USC, she is involved with the online publication US-China Today as well as the Asian Pacific Cinema Association. In her free time, she enjoys watching films and exploring new restaurants. As an international student herself, Natalie understands why it’s sometimes challenging to be away from home and is excited to share her experiences or help others navigate this process! Feel free to reach out to Natalie for anything from presentation preparation to just film recommendations!