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Commentary: A week to learn about, celebrate other cultures

Afshan Patel
By Afshan Patel
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday November 24, 2003
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The UA community will celebrate this week. Some will celebrate Thanksgiving, while others will celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr proof of the diversity of students at the university. Among these students is a very special group that comes from different corners of the world, adding to the culture of Arizona.

The entire nation celebrated International Education Week last week. The UA is home to 2900 students from 114 countries outside the United States. Although we have the sixth-largest international student population in the country, there has been a 1.8 percent decrease in foreign students during the last year. This decrease has resulted from visa restrictions, tuition hikes and a lack of social acceptance.

It would be disappointing to see this trend continue due to people's unwillingness to get to know others different from themselves. Tuition hikes and visa restrictions are beyond an individual's realm of control, but making an international student feel welcome is not.

In honor of International Education Week, the Office of International Student Programs and Services (ISPS) and the International Students' Association (ISA) planned a week full of programs, ranging from a celebration of students who receive scholarships to a forum discussing international student issues.

The forum, arranged by Preet Ghuman, president of ISA, was very interesting. The international students brought up a few issues that have concerned them. One of the biggest was the social isolation when the international students first come here. They are treated differently since they look different or sound different. And some students feel they are looked down upon because they are not citizens of the United States.

Let's take a minute to think about this these men and women come from different countries, and some of them leave their families and other loved ones behind to come here for educational purposes. They enter a land that is sometimes very different from theirs and experience culture shock.

Most of them do not know anyone here, so they try to make friends with random people they meet, or just try to find people from their own cultural background. During this time, while they are trying to fight homesickness and get acquainted with Tucson and the university, local people face them with unwelcome attitudes. It definitely makes their trip more difficult.

Don't get me wrong; not every American chooses to not welcome international students, but a large number do. Students who do not clearly understood because of their accents are continually made fun of or criticized. Some are ridiculed because of their dressing styles or beliefs. Some people are blunt and just ask foreign students how soon they intend to return to their own countries.

Being in a new country and trying to adjust to it is quite a challenge; having to deal with critical comments while doing so just makes a person's first few months more difficult. These students need to feel accepted as a part of the community instead of feeling like aliens.

True, many present-day standoffish American attitudes are a result of Sept. 11. However, it is imperative to understand and acknowledge that all foreign students are not against Americans, nor are they involved in activities against Americans. It is unfair to judge everyone under the same light. People are innocent until proven guilty, not vice versa.

International students play a large role in educating the community about different cultures and traditions. They are an integral part of this community.

Being in a multicultural society is a learning experience for both American and foreign students. It is also a very big opportunity for foreign students to come to Arizona, to meet people from all around the world, and to learn about American culture, among others. Instead of trying to alienate each other, we should take advantage of our good fortune and learn about each other. This would allow us all to broaden our horizons and become more educated.

Afshan Patel is a finance junior. She can be reached at

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