Opinion: Turning International Citizens into Global Citizens

“The defining theme of [Eleanor Roosevelt College] is international understanding,” according to the college’s mission statement, which explains why ERC attracts a lot of international students. In the 2017-2018 academic year, 950 international students attended ERC, constituting 26 percent of the ERC student body. However, the trump card of ERC is its mandatory Making of the Modern World program, an intensive five-quarter writing program that covers world history, literature, and philosophy. The course will ideally deepen the students’ understanding of global history and familiarize them with the research process. Despite the global focus of this course, it ignores the needs of international students who make up such a significant proportion of the ERC population.

First, the program deliberately avoids talking about U.S. history since it is presumed that students already know this history from their previous education. However, this is not the case for international students. Coming to the U.S., they need to learn more about American culture and history in order to understand the new society they are thrown into. After all, for them this is an international experience which they should be able to enjoy fully.

Second, students have to choose topics from the historical period covered by that course for research projects. The idea is that students are going to delve deep into a previously unexplored area of history for them. The only restriction, though, is that the topic can not pertain to American history. Most international students take advantage of such policies and write about their home country, history, and culture. This defeats the purpose for international students as they do not learn anything new about the culture in which they now participate. The incentives in the course prompt international students to make this exact choice, all the while limiting their exposure to the history of the country in which they now reside. The simple solution of restricting topics by the students’ home country would avoid this problem.

Moreover, MMW research projects aim to give students an idea of how to conduct research. However, this process is complicated for international students. MMW courses restrict research materials in other languages to hold students accountable when they cite texts. Therefore, when writing about their own countries or region, international students might devote more time to simply finding translations of the documents they have already encountered in their home country than researching new fields of study. Such “research” leaves students with a completely inadequate idea of what a research process constitutes. In fact, after these projects, international students are left with an impression that humanities research means shuffling together papers in one language to prove a point. Even worse, since documents in other languages are prohibited, international students cannot expand their knowledge with primary texts because they are limited by what has already been translated to English.

Finally, many international students experience huge problems with the amount of readings required for the course. The Test of English as a Foreign Language, which every international student has to take, does not comprehensively test students’ preparedness for high-level analyses in English. While trying to administer tests with respect to all international students’ level of English comprehension, admission committees and the creators of exams do not rigorously mark vocabulary and grammar faults with international students. The argument is that one can achieve only a certain level of language proficiency without being immersed in the language, but this assumes that newly admitted international students will master their skills once in college. So, while readings are time-consuming for everybody, foreign students encounter unique problems associated with a limited vocabulary and a lack of extensive experience since they have been reading in a different language throughout their lives. As a result, overwhelmed international students master the ability to spot main ideas without ever reading the text rather than fostering their English language skills as expected of them.

To their credit, MMW’s failure to address international students’ needs was not intentional. The program was designed in 1988 when there were almost no international students at UCSD, but over the last 10 years the number of international students spiked from three percent in 2006 to the current 19.5 percent. Seeing as international students now occupy such a significant portion of the population, it is imperative to consider their needs when evaluating courses. Ultimately, the solution would be to design a separate modified MMW sequence for international students similar to how transfer students take an altered form of MMW. The course should focus more on the U.S., prohibit research projects on the student’s country of origin, and redesign sections to help international students acquire the literature vocabulary they lack.

One thought on “Opinion: Turning International Citizens into Global Citizens

  1. Congrats to all involved in this important program because being an international student away from home is difficult, compounded by our complex culture and language problems. Welcoming and assimilation assistance must come from numerous sources, including the White House, to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand.
    Something that might help anyone coming to the US is the award-winning worldwide book/ebook “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” Used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it identifies how “foreigners” have become successful in the US, including students.
    It explains how to cope with a confusing new culture and friendship process, and daunting classroom differences. It explains how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.
    It also identifies the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
    Good luck to all at UCSD or wherever you study or wherever you come from, because that is the TRUE spirit of the American PEOPLE, not a few in government who shout the loudest! Supporters of int’l students must shout louder.

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