Heidi Tam, a final-year Journalism student from Hong Kong, shares her tips to help foster a friendlier university experience for internationals students.
Settling into university can be challenging for many, but it’s especially hard for international students who have moved far away from home to a foreign country. Even though you may not speak the same language, or come from the same background, you can still help ease them into this new environment by following these five tips!
1. Be proactive
It’s scary losing all sense of familiarity when you step into university, but you’re not alone. Everyone is navigating a new stage in life and trying to make new friends, so go talk to that international student in your flat! They’ve probably been too anxious to approach anyone, especially if they’re not confident in speaking English. Offer to teach them a crash course on British culture, from what ‘a cuppa’ is to how to master the weather small talk. I would’ve been so grateful if someone had shown me the best of what England has to offer — which arguably is a good Sunday roast.
2. Speak slower
I’ve spent my entire life learning English using resources with an American or Received Pronunciation accent, so you best believe I understood nothing when I was paired up with a Geordie on the first day of class. Native speakers already speak faster than most international students are used to, and with a Northern accent, they’ll just stare at you blankly. For non-native speakers to understand you better, start off speaking slowly and try to avoid difficult words, pop culture references, and idioms. And please stop saying dinner and tea instead of lunch and dinner, it only confuses us more.
Of course, each student is different, and some may be able to speak English fluently. If so, that’s great! Read on to see how to overcome cultural barriers.
3. Try to learn their language
For me, learning a new language is just like Duolingo but in-person and without a green bird gawking at me when I struggle to roll my Spanish r’s. It’s always fun learning a few words in a new language and seeing how different cultures express themselves — my friends love comparing the different versions of the cartoons they watched growing up. And it’s definitely entertaining to hear people speak your language in a slightly off accent. Your foreign friends will probably try to slip in a few vulgar words when they teach you daily phrases, but it makes for a good laugh when you use them obliviously!
4. Join in on cultural-exchange events
Leeds University Union organizes different events throughout the year to promote intercultural communication. The weekly Global Café at Common Ground is always a good shout as you can routinely meet up with people from around the world, not to mention the free refreshments available! You will get to experience the international community formed right here at the University, which is really important to a lot of foreign students.
A number of cultural societies also host potlucks and meal gatherings — that’s your chance to try the most authentic dishes from across the globe! Food is such a major aspect in so many communities, and it must be so exciting for international students to share this crucial part of their culture with you.
5. Don’t make assumptions
While it could be interesting to discuss cultural stereotypes, their culture does not make up their whole identity. Remember to still put in the effort to get to know everyone you meet and have an open mind, so they can express themselves comfortably.
Besides, some foreign students may not be accustomed to British culture and habits. For example, students from other countries might not be used to the heavy drinking culture here in the UK and might not enjoy drinking alcohol or going on a night out. Keep that in mind when planning social activities. If you need some inspiration, check out some of the best budget-friendly, booze-free activities in Leeds.