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First (Year) Impressions: Questioning the global outlook

When I was applying to college, way back in the good old days of fall 2015, Macalester stood out to me because of its commitment to internationalism. I wanted to be at a college with diversity in its students, classes and professors. When I heard that of Mac’s core values were internationalism and multiculturalism, it felt like the right place for me. As someone who has never spent more than a day outside of the United States, I needed to go to a school that would put me in situations with students from different places, perspectives and experiences.

The Class of 2020 is 15 percent international students who are from 44 different countries. These are numbers, and they are good numbers — something concrete that can be put on an admissions brochure. But the question is, how do international and domestic students affect each other? Is there really a global exchange of ideas and perspectives going on at Macalester, or are we experiencing a kind of de facto segregation?

“I find it very ironic,” said Koharu Yachida ’20, from Japan, “that Macalester works so hard to get international students here, but there’s so many [international students] that we have our own community, and a lot of us don’t venture outside of that community.”

When I was talking to Yachida, she explained that she came to Macalester because she wanted to gain a different perspective and global outlook. And I laughed — I came to Macalester from Oregon, and Yachida from Tokyo, but we ended up here for the same reason. No doubt the intention is there for most students: we want to engage with people from different backgrounds and we want to experience the diversity that initially drew us to Mac.

But whether we all follow through with our intentions is another matter. Yachida said there is “definitely” a divide between international and domestic students. “Sometimes you can just sense that there are people who don’t really want to talk to international students,” she said. “Although, some people really take advantage of the internationalism here, but others just kind of ignore it.”

This gap is more visible socially — who we sit with at dinner, who we walk to class with, who we hang out with on the weekends — but some feel the gap academically as well. Aberdeen McEvers ’19 is a writing tutor who has seen this difference when comparing the writing of international and domestic students.“In many other countries, you don’t state your thesis first, because it’s considered pretentious to make a claim before you prove it,” said McEvers. “But here, you have to make a claim right at the beginning, and work backwards. Some students are really hesitant to make a claim early on, like how we’ve been taught here, because it doesn’t seem like a good way to structure an argument to them.”

This “Americanization” of academic writing is an issue at many other institutions, but it does conflict specifically with Mac’s values. “I know that professors are trying to prepare their students for the academic world beyond Macalester,” said McEvers, “and unfortunately, a majority of that world has been forced to acclimate to the Western style of academia.”

After this election put a spotlight on so much of the country’s darkness, it is all the more important to be able to say that difference is tolerable. It is our responsibility to “take advantage of the internationalism at Mac,” as Yachida said, and put our values into practice.

As a prospective student, I identified with that little logo of the orange being peeled and revealing the world underneath, with all its countries and conflicts. But as a student here, I’m not convinced that the peel falls so cleanly, in one whole piece. It is fragmented — only over time, with steady effort, can we learn to possess a global outlook, in our academics and our interactions.

December 2, 2016

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