With almost 2000 international students, Lancaster University boasts a diverse and cosmopolitan student population. Approximately 16% of its overall student body trek their way over to the dreary north of England from over 100 different countries to learn at Lancaster, and it’s something we have to be thankful for. Students thrive in a multicultural community because the sharing of different ideas and backgrounds enhances our own culture whilst allowing us to learn about others.
Or at least that’s the idea. Unfortunately, however, the fact that our international community is so large in size has arguably in some ways compromised the very basis on which we enjoy its existence. A great proportion of our overseas students enjoy being thoroughly immersed in Lancaster life. They speak our language with far more eruditely than those who are much closer to home, and are among our closest friends. However, there is an extent to which, for many, the type of community Lancaster provides makes it perfectly possible to create a home from home within the confines of campus life.
International students are frequently placed in student halls with at least one other student from their home country in their flat. This was my experience of campus living and it is one which has been shared by the majority of those I know. I understand the rationale behind this room placement. I know for certain that if I were to travel to China to attend university, for example, I would be greatly comforted in being so far from home if I had a friend from Britain to keep me company in the place in which I was trying to make a new home for myself. However such a set up does frequently dictate that such friendships tend to occur at the expense of potentially close relationships with the other members of the flat.
I lived with two international students last year, who had moved here from China, and we got on very easily. Unfortunately, however, the relationship between us never came to much. And nor did it between many other groups in flats in my college. The system set up by the residence officers frequently meant that whilst we lived harmoniously amongst each other, the Chinese girls I knew all socialised amongst themselves, and we socialised amongst ourselves, and whilst we remained polite we never became close.
For many students this is how they feel happiest whilst learning and living in Lancaster, and it is something which we must respect. But for others it has become a source of frustration. Since moving off campus to a house in town this year I have another international student as a housemate, who moved in after another friend dropped out. Whilst it was much easier for him to find a flat on campus where he would have been in the company of other international students, he decided to search for a house like ours, because living on campus made him feel sheltered from learning about our culture and living as a British student would.
He expressed further frustration about the way in which the teaching at Lancaster has been altered because the majority of students on his particular course were international: “In my first seminar I walked in and the tutor greeted us with ‘Ni Hao’ instead of ‘Hello’.” This was not what he travelled 5000 miles to hear.
Obviously it is important to make our international students feel comfortable during their time at Lancaster. However, there is an extent to which it can be argued that our system of room allocation and approach to teaching over shelters students who, having travelled so far, clearly have the independence to thrive within our own culture and amongst our British ways whilst staying true to their roots and continuing to enjoy traditions from home. As ever the key remains with balance. It is highly important to keep international students coming to Lancaster, and make their time here worthwhile and enjoyable enough that others will follow in years to come. At the moment, however, the balance seems to be slightly out of kilter, and if the university wants International students to make the most of their experiences perhaps over sheltering is an issue that needs to be addressed.