What students can gain by crossing cultural barriers that divide them

Most international students prefer to stay within their own circles but becoming too settled in your own group can put students at a disadvantage. Trinity College Foundation Studies students Keshia Laisina and Alice (Gaofei) Xue speak to educators about how students can benefit once they cross that cultural barrier.

Photo: Keshia Laisina

As one of the most multicultural cities in the world, it should come as no surprise that Melbourne is teeming with people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. This diversity also includes the many international students this city welcomes every year. However, not all students mingle with one another; many international students, when they first arrive, choose to stay in a group with people from the same countries as them.

This phenomena is not new and, in some respects, can be considered understandable for many international students as Alison Hemsley, Associate Dean of Student Services at Trinity College Foundation Studies (TCFS), shared.

“[To] cope with those stresses [of being an international student], students need some familiarities,” Ms Hemsley said.

“Only when they are settled and feel safe, they can start interacting with others” she continued.

Jack Migdalek, drama teacher at Trinity College of Foundation Studies for twenty years, expanded on Ms Hemsley’s statements, adding that cultural differences as one of the biggest reasons as to why students tend to stay in their comfort group.

“For example,” Jack explained, “[in] southeast Asian culture, to be polite is not to be noisy or assertive. However in many western cultures, [people expect] young people to have a voice and stand.”

These cultural barriers can suddenly be compounded by the feeling of being an outsider as well, as Mr Migdalek notes.

“It is a big deal to go to a university and suddenly be a minority in class,” he said.

While the benefits of being in a familiar group does help early on, the real problem according to Ms Hemsley is when students feel like they can truly settle and stay in that group.

“If they don’t reach out, they’ll lose opportunities to learn about others, to become more culturally aware, and to personally develop as mature adults,” she said.

“They lose the opportunity [to] potentially enrich their lives.”

An opportunity for everyone

The key, according to Ms Hemsley, is “for students to cross the societal gap” and “to facilitate a positive experience where they can share and build relationships with a culturally diverse group.”.

One such way for students, particularly those just starting overseas study either at the foundation level or in their first year, is to attend the Global Pathway Event, hosted at Trinity College’s main campus.

Reverend Lisa Saunders, head of the multicultural and multi-faith club in TCFS and organiser of the Global Pathway, expressed her enthusiasm for the event.

“One of the joys of having an event like the Global Pathway is that we bring people together and we say that this is a celebration,” Revd Saunders said.

The event, Revd Saunders explained, is an opportunity for students to get outside of their comfort zone, interact with people from different countries and learn more about their culture. Featuring booths from various countries such as China, Myanmar, Malaysia and much more, those who attend the event essentially are treated to the the kind of food, art and enriching qualities that make that country’s culture so appealing.

“The main goal [of the Global Pathway event] is to share our diversity, to celebrate our differences and to relate to different countries and cultures.”

Revd Saunders hopes the event will help students overcome cultural barriers so that they can gain a deeper and rich understanding of the world around them

“If you know other people and you respect them and their cultures then you are not as afraid of [interacting with them],” Revd Saunders said.

The Global Pathway Event will be held on Wednesday, March 29 2017 at Trinity Main Campus.

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This story was produced by Media and Communication students at Trinity College Foundation Studies as part of Meld’s community newsroom collaboration. Education institutions, student clubs/societies and community groups interested in being involved can get in touch with us via meld@meldmagazine.com.au.

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