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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

11/27/23 pdf
November 27, 2023

International students have a unique impression about life at UMass Boston

International Students at UMass Boston

According to the University of Massachusetts Boston Office of Global Programs, there are currently 1,917 international students on campus, and that figure is on the rise. “From five years ago the numbers have skyrocketed,” stated the Vice Provost of the Office of Global Programs Schuyler S. Korban. The reason, of course, is the popularity that UMass is gaining among its international peer institutions, as well as its recruitment of international students, aided by showcasing an attractive, welcoming environment.

It’s not universal knowledge, but the programs and specific agreements which allow students from other countries to study at UMass are several and varying: there are exchange study programs, PhD programs, master programs, as well as undergraduate programs that serve international students here on campus. If you look closer — and perhaps look up from your phone — you’ll notice that international students are everywhere on this campus; you’ll probably find a couple in your class. Talk to us and get to know us!  

“Here everybody just comes in class and then goes back home,” seems to be the prevalent sentiment among International students when asked to describe the social scene here at UMass Boston. “When you walk into a classroom the first thing you notice is that all the tables are like in a grid format…It feels like a prison. You can’t actually speak to anybody else.” By communicating, you’ll find we have much to say.  

International students come from almost everywhere in the world: Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania, South America; more than 90 countries are represented. Some of them are here just for a semester or two, others for the duration of their entire degree programs.

What is clear to everyone is that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Like pioneers, we cross borders and dive into a completely new and foreign culture (or slightly different cultures) in a bid to live the American dream.

So what are the first impressions foreign students have of this country? Let’s try to go deeper in these students’ thoughts. First of all, the difference between educational systems is one of the biggest obstacles they have to go through. Almost nobody is used to handling assignments and papers so often. Students from Europe in particular usually have only final exams to prepare for, with no mandatory classes to attend. Yet, after getting over the initial organizational shock, the most interesting aspects that affected the international students were the first ideas they had of American society.

Although the United States always offered the promise of a utopia, living here shows all the inconsistencies with that notion. The longer you live here, the more the idea of this being a perfect society falls into pieces. Maybe the American dream we dreamt about growing up was just a dream and nothing more.

Cutting-edge infrastructures, perfectly functioning college systems, state-of-the-art health services, but at what price? The tuition bill we received — and that most of us luckily don’t have to pay thanks to our exchange programs — shows it. A society where everything works perfectly but in which families have to struggle to save money for children’s college education right from their birth. A society where only those who pay have access to medical treatment.

Focusing on campus life, the difference between cultures is usually evident in the relationship between students. Every international student I interviewed recognized the kindness that the American students at this institution show, while simultaneously recognizing the barrier they seem to raise.

Of course it’s a cultural difference, but one of the things we really don’t understand is the “Hey, how are you?” phenomenon, where in most cases the greeter has disappeared before one can offer a reply. One student interviewed remarked on this, observing that, “People are very welcoming and friendly, but it’s not like a profound contact…It doesn’t go further.” Another remarked that it was a bit of struggle to make friends inside the classroom: “It’s very annoying. [In my country] you make friends in class.”

The impression that students coming from other countries have is that American students are not really interested in making new friends in class. What we perceive is that almost every student here has a job off campus — to pay the insanely high tuition fees — and for this reason they probably don’t have time to stay after classes. Nevertheless, they don’t seem truly interested in making new friends in class either: “Everyone prefers staring at his own smartphone instead of talking to someone else.”

What is missing is probably an unaffected interest in other countries and cultures: “I read a book; a student from China complained that most of American students still think China remained poor and undeveloped, when in reality China has become one of the most significant trade hubs of the world.”

Sometimes the life of an international student is a little bit solitary. The consensus among us is that this is a society with excellent manners but probably little interest in opening up to “the other;” a society where everything is done to keep the balance. But what’s hidden behind the façade?