What is the goal of a college education? Is it just the education you receive? Is the degree all that counts? Are academics the only important part of the four years we spend here?
I think we can all agree that the answer is a resounding no. The social groups we form and the experiences we have as part of life on a residential campus are equally important components of a college education. College is supposed to prepare you for the real world, and simply cramming for an economics final will not do that.
As an international student, I had a very clear vision of what I wanted my time in college to look like. I didn’t want to limit myself to interacting with the kinds of people I would’ve met back home. While that would have been comforting and familiar, my goals were clear: I wanted to interact with people with different upbringings, accents and cultures.
Before leaving home, I had no concept of what life was like for international students in America. I had assumed that most would be like me, trying to interact and form relationships with new kinds of people. In spite of what I believed, I was very wrong.
In my time here, I have seen most of the international community spend its time in segregated social groups, barely interacting with anyone who does not sound, look and behave like they do. Of course, this is not unique to international students. From conversations I’ve had with other students, it’s not just international students, but a lot of minority communities in the U.S. as well.
The reasons for this are not exactly a mystery: people feel more comfortable with those who have similar life experiences to them. For international students, feeling homesick is also a major factor. I’m not trying to say that these arguments are irrelevant. These are perfectly valid emotions, but we have to consider what the value of a college education really is.
Many international students pay the University’s sticker price, meaning we pay something north of $40,000 every year to attend. To offer American readers a bar for comparison, let’s look at tuition rates for some of the top colleges around the world: St. Stephens College in India comes in at $250 per semester and Nanjing University in China at $3,000 per year. This means that students coming to the U.S. from these countries value an American college education anywhere from 10 to 100 times more than the education they could receive in their home countries.
All that value cannot be narrowed down to the academic components of the college experience. While many international students would argue that the academics at American universities are better, no one can argue that they warrant paying a hundred times more in tuition and fees. The experience of living on an American campus must be part of the equation. And if that’s true, by isolating themselves into culturally limited social groups, students rob themselves of the experiences that create the most social value.
Of course, this is all easier said than done. I’m no stranger to the fears and concerns that come with talking to unfamiliar people. Having to explain aspects of your culture, experiencing communication difficulties due to different accents or different vocabularies, and then having to face those challenges every time you meet someone is not an enjoyable experience.
The alternative, though, is far worse. Continuing to cocoon in our own respective tribes defeats the purpose of having such a diverse class of students. The entire point of diversity is for us to learn from each other and grow together, and to realize that we probably have more in common than we think. The only way to do that is for us to get out of our bubbles and interact.
Next time you find yourself spending time around students from the same communities, try to branch out and talk to someone new. I’ve made some amazing friends so far doing just that, and there’s no reason you couldn’t too.
Manas Pandit can be reached at [email protected]