Gender & Identity, Life

Being an international student in America isn’t easy

Do you even have any kind of exposure to what happens outside America?

“Where’re you from, India?”

This is probably the question I got asked the most during my time in the U.S. – presumably because I have brown skin and straight black hair and I speak with an accent that’s not American.

The fact that my accent is neither remotely Indian doesn’t seem to occur to anyone.

While I get that it’s an easy mistake to make, since I do have Indian roots, I wish people would just ask me where I’m from, period. Why do you have to add your own little presumption at the end? At first, it amused me but gradually it started to annoy me.

The fact that I always had to explain where Mauritius is didn’t help either. The life of international students in the U.S., or anywhere, arguably, isn’t easy – we always have to address misconceptions about our background or to try to explain various aspects of our culture. This becomes even more difficult if the people we’re talking to have radically different backgrounds from us: I had an easier time explaining my position on certain topics to my Pakistani-American friends than I did to my white acquaintances.

Of course an international student should adapt to the norms of the country that they’re studying in. They should be easygoing and be grateful that they got the opportunity to study in a country with presumably higher educational standards than their own country’s. But at the same time, most international students do not study for free – most of us are paying at least partially for our education, not to mention that many colleges charge higher fees to international students. So don’t we deserve a little understanding from our American classmates?

I know not every American is insensitive and that, mostly, they mean well. But by asking me whether there are cars in Mauritius, I don’t think you’re simply being curious. It’s okay to wonder about how developed a country is (people tend to do that when they’re from the “First World”), but there are much more tactful ways of doing so.

By being surprised that I don’t know much about baseball, you’re assuming your culture is the most significant. It’s not.

By asking me “how is the educational system in India like” you’re making a gross supposition that you did not bother verifying first.

When a professor asks me whether or not an Imam can issue a fatwa in Mauritius after I’ve just told him that Mauritius is a democracy, I begin to wonder: do Americans have any kind of real exposure to what happens outside of the U.S.?

Yes, international students have to be accommodating. But more importantly, it’s high time for Americans to start acknowledging their own ignorance.