International Students: An Integral Part to My Education

by Nathan Baumgartner

Opinion Contributor

Thinking about housing teams can be quite a hassle. In the anticipation of living with certain people, I passed up opportunities presented by other people to live with them, and I had some plans blow up in my face (metaphorically speaking). The result: I ended up applying for housing all by myself. However, it turns out that applying for housing all by myself turned into one of the greatest experiences of my life. When I moved in to my apartment on 26 August 2015, after a series of mishaps with getting into my apartment, I figured that I would be the first one there in what I thought was an interesting “Welcome Back to Canisius” of sorts. But I was wrong: to my astonishment, someone else was in my apartment. A quick glance showed that he had a HUGE dictionary, but not just any dictionary. No, this one was in German. In probably the biggest understatement of the year (itself still young), I got excited when I found out that I had the opportunity to live with someone from Germany: though the relevance to my major did not hit me just yet, the thought of talking to a German – let alone living with one – for more than half of a week’s time really lifted my spirits, and in fact, probably got me through what would otherwise be a truly exhausting day.   

Imagine that consistent pattern of just finding someone with whom you naturally connect as a friend and roommate – something I thought I would’ve lost not having the same wonderful roommate I had my freshman year – and so began one of my greatest friendships ever to this date. To this day, I attribute this to the fact that we had so much in common, so much to talk about, and so much to do together: unfortunately, my roommate last semester had to go back to his home university. But all hope was not lost: this semester, I found out that I got another roommate from a foreign country, this time from Ireland. The excitement was perfect, as I found out I had an Irish roommate while being in Europe for what I have termed a “conferecation,” a synthesis of a conference (a practical reason for traveling) and a vacation (to make the practical reason more enjoyable).  So far, it seems, living with international students this year has provided me with a solid basis of understanding the world around me, which is something a lot of US-Americans either do not express an interest in or just do not have the opportunity to experience. In regards to my German roommate, I learned some interesting facts about Germany which I would not have known otherwise. In exchange, I gave him my perspective on things directly impacting his home country. While we did not agree on everything, we still remain very close friends who eventually understand where our individual thought processes originate.

Though it is quite early in the semester and we have a few months to go, I think my friendship with my new roommate for this semester will shape out in a similar way. While we both have a common language in English, our dialects can become quite different, and his dialect has inadvertently shaped the way I talk sometimes: even though the second week of the semester is coming to a close, I have already caught myself getting words like “three” and “tree” mixed up in my head and saying one word when I clearly should have said the other. That silly stuff would happen anyways, to be honest, but I am really proud of myself for being able to understand what some people consider to be a very tricky dialect for US-Americans to understand.

And everyone can learn something from just talking with an international student. Perhaps one of the things I learned which has resonated with me the most is that the United States is not perfect. But then again, neither is the European Union, or any of its respective member states. For that matter, international students go beyond their “accent” and therefore have defied some prominent stereotypes against foreigners in US-American culture. Whether advertently or inadvertently, culture in the United States – and in some places in Europe, even – is largely xenophobic, even though every single person has an accent (which is only perceived to be different when a person is “out of their element”) and first impressions seem to be made on the basis of where you are perceived to come from. For example, from experience I know that some French people have a hesitancy to speak English because they are afraid of being wrong and essentially judged. That does not mean that they, as a people, are inherently rude. A similar thing happened with me in Germany, where I went a day without talking in German because I was afraid of being wrong, but I started talking in German and realized that of the Germans I talked to, a lot of them did not care about my lack of expertise in the German language, but rather that I made an effort to speak their language.

This concept of looking at the glass half-full, rather than half-empty, is something which will also resonate with me. And for that, I am forever thankful for the opportunities provided in befriending international students last semester and I look forward to strengthening my friendships with international students this semester and beyond!

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