I wrote this blog post to explain why I was creating a representative for int’l students on the Haverford students’ council in 2015. Recent developments convince me that I needed to put it up again, so I did. It’s been 4 years and that’s a lot of time for growth and I don’t stand behind some of the language I used in this post, but the sentiment remains the same.
It’s loud at the CCPA’s (Center for Career and Professional Advising) latest career fair. Students in suits are sitting across from interviewers articulating solutions to brainteasers, talking about their extra-curricular involvement and coursework.
There’s one demographic missing. International students are sorely missing— for one single reason. At this fair, there are barely any jobs up for grabs where the employer is willing to hire international students.
I’m sitting in my semantics class and a Chinese international student opens her mouth to ask the professor a question. The student next to her smirks and snickers.
As international students, we are expected to have some form of gratitude towards this institution for inviting us as guests. We are supposed to be quiet, enriching this institution with our many tongues and traditions, yet staying silent to navigate an institution that wasn’t designed for us. Be it horror stories from classrooms, a lack of inclusion in customs groups, or different administrative bodies’ callous disregard of international student voices, these problems are all too real. The stereotype of an international student is a quiet, hard-worker— someone who stays in their dorm a lot and doesn’t engage with their customs group or the community-at-large. Perhaps it’s because we’ve given up on engaging in the community altogether. No one comes to a different country to study with the intention of not making friends— of sitting in a room quietly and not engaging with people from the country. This stereotype is a result of failure on behalf of the community to engage with us.
I would be more accepting of this narrative of “grateful guest” if Haverford granted me financial aid and ‘gave’ me the opportunity to study here. It didn’t. We were admitted and told to pay an exorbitantly high tuition and we did because of the promise of what Haverford would provide us. If Haverford is going to join the game of higher education tuition bubble blowing in the United States and charge us all a ridiculous number, this institution must acknowledge that our expectations increase as tuition does.
With that in mind, this narrative needs to stop. I’m not grateful for Haverford. I’m a part of it. International students aren’t guests in this school. We are an integral part of this community. We need to be consulted, we need to be involved in crucial decision-making processes we are too often shut out of and we need to be heard. Upon matriculating at this school, we are all constitutionally members of the students’ association and each one of us has our set of unique needs that we demand of this institution. We, international students, pay a disproportionate amount of this campus’ tuition contribution and the narrative is for us to remain silent and for our contribution to go towards resources that are not designed for us.
For example, why doesn’t the CCPA find more jobs that are willing to hire international students? Why doesn’t CAPS have resources designed for students who are suffering from crippling guilt from the sheer amount of money their parents are paying for them to study in the United States? Why aren’t customs people trained about how to include international students? Why can’t winter housing be guaranteed to international students the same way it’s guaranteed to students taking courses at Penn or athletes?
Part of this burden of solving these problems of policy lies on us. We have a responsibility to speak up more— to engage ourselves more actively in the political processes once again. We have a responsibility to make our voices heard. We have a responsibility to assert our presence in this community.
Conversely, there’s a responsibility that lies in the hands of the rest of the members of the Haverford community. You have the responsibility to keep your ears open and receptive. You have the responsibility to treat people who speak up in class in an accent that is not your own with dignity and respect. You have a responsibility to not shut us out of conversations because of cultural differences and then to not shame us when we decide that since we’ve been ostracized, sitting together in the Dining Center is our last recourse. This was all codified under the Social Honor Code last spring in an amendment I proposed that declares that discrimination based on “English capability” or “national origin” is a social violation. We sign the code as a standard we hold ourselves to and as a standard we hold each other to. I expect this from all of you, and you can expect the same decency and respect from me.