Help them feel at home

Let’s reach out to international students

The author, a regular contributor to the CN&R, teaches at Butte College.

Are Americans hospitable? Or merely service-oriented?

I encountered this question when I attended a recent Butte College faculty presentation about the international-student experience. Five Butte College instructors, themselves international students at one time, shared recollections of when they were students far from home.

Math instructor Sanjay Dev came to the United States from Nepal at 16. He said it was his experience that, while Americans are service-oriented, they’re not really that good at offering true hospitality. In his first four years here, Dev felt disconnected. His life took a good turn when he met an academic adviser who loved Nepal and who extended genuine friendship and caring to him.

Like Dev, the other four instructors all referred to various points in their academic journeys abroad where they had endured a particular emotion: loneliness. Their stories corresponded with those I’d heard shared by Arabic students at last fall’s Center for Excellence in Teaching Conference (CELT) at Chico State as well as information given in a group interview I conducted with several Butte College students from Myanmar several months ago.

These students told me how they lived together in an apartment on the south end of Chico. It was challenging for them to make American friends, they said, speculating it was because their English wasn’t perfect and therefore maybe American students didn’t want to talk with them much. The students’ recruiter later told me they sometimes felt isolated, which struck me as sad.

Historically, we Americans have been known as a friendly people; has our friendliness decreased? Do we foolishly not welcome the brave youth who travel here from other nations to gain education and contribute to the world—and who, in the process, enrich our lives?

I don’t like the thought of international students in Chico feeling lonely. Can we Chicoans extend ourselves to them in the coming months and ask them how they’re doing? Offer to help them understand perplexing cultural differences? Maybe ask them out for a meal or a beer, or even invite them into our homes for an American holiday celebration? They’re probably all missing a warm kitchen full of savory aromas and the sound of family talking around the table. Let’s reach out to these students who bring so much to our community.

It takes only a little effort to extend hospitality and perhaps ease some loneliness.