International Orientation: Who needs it?

By Hae Ryun Kang

Macalester prides itself on internationalism. The pamphlets and college brochures boast of a dynamic and abundant international student population, and internationalism is flaunted in a variety of ways – through the language houses, the study abroad programs, and the multilingual prayers at convocations. And to ease their transition into the United States as well as the school, the international students have at least four days of separate International Orientation prior to the actual one with the “domestic” students.But is this necessarily a wise approach on Macalester’s part?

The International Orientation is useful in various aspects. The mentors, a handful of upperclassmen who volunteer to coordinate the orientation, help with more than just getting the students necessary supplies from Target or picking them up from the airport. Their interactional activities alleviate the tension of being in an alien environment and help form new ties of friendship among the students. This year, the Twin Cities Vertigo, one of the activities in which groups of students were dropped off in the middle of Minneapolis with the task of interviewing specific locals (i.e. person with tattoo; person with glasses), proved particularly enjoyable. The specific paperwork (visas, laws and forms regarding foreigners’ employment, TB shots), while not as enjoyable, is also an indispensable part of the orientation.

It is inevitable that the international students, already grouped separately from the get-go, should form bonds stronger than that with the rest of the student population. When the actual orientation started this year on Friday, August 31, many internationals, myself included, referred to it as the “domestics’ orientation,” and not “ours.”

This segregation of the international students, this unnecessary (and surely unwanted) categorization of the Macalester student body into the “internationals” and the “domestics” gives rise to this question: is the International Orientation necessary? Or, better put, is the International Orientation so necessary as to allocate at least half a week to its objectives and activities? It is valuable to form communal bonds within a group (hence the presence of many cultural and religious organizations on campus), but not at the cost of alienating said group from the rest of the community. There are more, and better, ways to form communal bonds between the international group of students than the existing Macalester way.

An internationalism to be proud of is not one in which international students are demarcated from the “domestics,” but where we are integrated into the community such that the core principles of internationalism are thoroughly felt and lived by all the students of the Macalester community.