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Though international students make up almost 20% of Syracuse University’s student body, the more than 4000 students are not free from experiencing various struggles on campus that come with adjusting to the United States.

The university community can work to prevent the use of derogatory language and expand financial aid opportunities to international students, who are an important section of the student body. 

The U.S. college experience has been a dream for me and many other international students. Thanks to Hollywood and the internet, the romanticization of college life has represented the ‘American Dream’ for young people around the world. 

But despite this dream, international students come across many microaggressions, which are little things that may go unnoticed to some but are really hurtful to others. One of the most common microaggressions comes in the form of compliments: “You speak perfect English.”  “How do you talk like that?” 

While these may not sound offensive, the stereotype that some international students don’t know English well is hurtful. Just to get into major U.S. universities, international students must pass multiple standardized tests of English fluency.

New York City influenced my upbringing, with my immigrant relatives and closest friends being from the area, and I spent many summers there. The accent of the city found its way into my speech. When I went to an international school for my secondary education with students and staff from all over the world, my accent became very mixed. The internet has also reinforced pressure on users to learn English. Many international students have the same experiences. 

Given this, presuming that citizens of certain countries are not as educated can come off as offensive. Shamefully, I must admit I speak English better than my mother tongue due to this pressure. 

Another event that came off as offensive was when I spoke of going home, and someone said to me, “Why would you want to go home, isn’t it a third world country?” The smirk that came with that comment spoke for itself. Small, seemingly-innocuous comments make a world of difference to international students on campus.

Another issue I faced was when the coronavirus pandemic hit home in Bangladesh, causing a massive economic recession. SU’s Office of Financial Aid offered grants on a case-by-case basis, but I was not provided the help I needed as I was told that the school didn’t have funding. Not having adequate financial assistance to provide for students can potentially pose a significant risk to some international students, especially during the pandemic.

Given the large number of international students who attend SU, having funding for more assistance is crucial. International students represent SU wherever we go, and we play a role in diversifying the student population. Not having financial assistance is a slap in the face of the very people who are a crucial foundation of this university.

However, many international students have a great time on campus. Jingge Zhao, an international student from China, is content with the social environment at SU. 

“I try to look positively,” he said. “(SU) tried to arrange virtual events. They sincerely tried to help. The outcome is not that well.”

But many international students also face a culture shock when arriving on campus for the first time. Zhao had trouble connecting with people during his first two weeks here due to the cultural and language barriers. I also faced a culture shock when I first arrived, and I recall not having friends in my first month here.

I quickly came to realize that it takes time to adjust due to the swift changes in lifestyle and the nature of starting over in a new country. What makes adjusting more difficult is becoming fully independent in a country where your family is likely not present.

Many international students don’t feel like they fit in on campus. The SU community can begin to remedy this by providing more financial assistance to international students and working to stop the use of microaggressions. I definitely am not the first international student to have faced these issues at SU.

Sourov Rayhan is a sophomore English major. Their column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at srayhan@syr.edu.

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