A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of speaking with the Alumni Board about Goshen College. They were very interested in hearing about my experience as an international student at GC, and also very curious to know if the college has been able to bridge the gap between the international students and the American students.
According to some of them, both groups only stuck to themselves which made communication between the two groups really hard when they were students here. I spoke of my own personal experiences and told them how that gap is surely narrowing and how it is not something that cannot be bridged without an effort from both sides.
But my personal experience obviously does not reflect everyone’s experience here, and honestly, the integration is still not as great as it could be for everyone.
It is not because we are hostile to each other, but because it is easier for all of us to just stick to people we culturally connect with rather than making an active effort to be friends with someone from outside our comfort circle. And until we realize how necessary it is to make that effort and how wonderful it is to open up to each other, there will always be that gap.
In the big GC picture, all of us may be seen as one, but within it, we exist as different subcultures: the Mennonites, the non-Mennonites, the residents, the commuters, the international students, the Latinx students, the athletes, the non-athletes and many more. And most of the time, all of us just stick to that one specific group we’re comfortable with and make no effort to know people outside.
Speaking for myself, International Student Club (ISC) is my safe haven and always will be. Nobody will understand how difficult it is to be far away from home and your family for years better than another student whose struggle is the same.
After being involved with ISC for two years, and leading it for a year, I see them as my family, people who understand me better than anyone. It is easier for me to just stick to them as well.
Being in the Student Senate, Interfaith Project and a few other clubs this year, as well as interacting with the larger campus has really made me realize how wonderful people are that I had never tried to be friends with before in addition to how much I could learn from them if I had made that effort sooner.
It is not just international and U.S. students; the lines between athletes and non-athletes, and commuter and resident students are just as blurry. For example, the commuter students hang out in the commuter lounge, and the resident students in the dorms. The clouded windows of the lounge far away from everything hot and happening on campus really makes their connection with the rest of the campus as blurry as the pictures taken by android phones. And this is the reason the participation of commuter students on campus is not good as the college wants it to be.
There are so many talented commuters with so much potential that GC could benefit greatly from, and if we want to increase the commuter students’ participation, we need to either find a way to move them close to dorms, or find a way to move the resident students to the Union more often. It is the same with athletes and non-athletes, who have their own cultures at GC and groups they stick with.
We often blame administration for the lack of integration on campus, but is it really the administration’s job to make you friends with everyone? Aren’t you the one who is supposed to be making that effort?
Students, both native and international, often say that they want the new president of GC to unify the diverse campus, but shouldn’t that start with our own friend circles and with us?
ISC, Black Student Union and Latino Student Union events are often open for everyone on campus, and so are Campus Activities Council events. There are so many opportunities for this inter-cultural exchange if you have the inclination to know someone outside of your comfort group.
No one can force you to be friends with people you don’t want to, but if you have the inclination, the effort has to come from you.