Perhaps you’ve heard the saying: “Perception is reality.” If that’s true, then reality can be changed. In some cases new, better realities emerge, while in others negative perceptions and circumstances remain. For me, an international student from India attending university in Canada, my fellow students’ opinions were based on the behavior of a subset of international students, and, unfortunately, the perception was negative. However, once my peers got to know me as an individual, their attitudes and our collective realities changed for the better.
To Assimilate or Not to Assimilate
The school I attend is not a large institution. The classes are smaller and the instruction more personalized. But, when there are fewer students in classes, behaviors, and attitudes can be amplified. I have seen my peers' facial expressions change when they learn that I’m an international student.
I asked several of my Canadian friends why there was a bad impression of international students. From what I gathered, the general belief was that international students simply do not want or care to assimilate to their new environment and refuse to adapt in any way. Unfortunately, this behavior has caused challenges for professors, administrators, and animosity between students. When studying in a different country, I see becoming accustomed to the host country’s culture as part of the experience, and there’s value in understanding that something acceptable in one culture may not be in another. However, because of the simple fact I was an international student, I got stereotyped. I felt belittled, and it made me angry.
Looking Beyond the Surface
I once had to introduce myself to an off-campus group, and I contemplated whether I should tell people of my “international status.” My stomach swirled from nervousness, but when it was my turn I decided to take the leap, and I said, “Hey, my name is Simran Soi, and I am an international student from India. I came to Canada to study and advance my career.” As soon as I said the words, I felt the air get sucked from the room, and the expressions on some faces changed—and not for the better. I felt myself being judged. At the end of the meeting, a few people asked if I would hang around, but I tutored four classes and had to decline because I had students waiting for me.
When I explained my reason for leaving early, everyone became curious and asked all about my tutoring and my work for the university, including my role as a WileyPLUS Student Partner. Suddenly, when I shared qualities they could relate to or learn from, I had their respect. I wish I had gained their respect as a person and as a peer, and I said as much, telling them I felt judged and reminded them that everybody is different.
People’s perceptions become a reality when they are blind to other possibilities. I hope that all of us will work towards seeing people for who they are and not what they are. Biases of any type are hurtful, and sometimes we’re unaware of our own. The best way forward is to do our best to keep our hearts and minds open before we make generalizations based on stereotypes or past experiences.
Have you faced challenges as an international student? Let us know in the comments below.
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