International student
International student stereotypes can be harmful, but there are ways to combat them. Source: Shutterstock.

There are many international student stereotypes, some that assume they are privileged, and others that accuse them of committing to studies as a ruse to land them permanent residency.

International students know these are merely stereotypes that can’t be applied to every single student who comes from overseas.

Not all are rich; many are funded through scholarships, while others come from middle-class families and need part-time jobs to cover the cost of tuition.

As The Mancunion puts it, “Rarely is the financial sacrifice of parents who do not come from massive stores of inherited wealth acknowledged or considered.”

Even if they are from wealthy backgrounds, it doesn’t mean they are shallow or like to spend their money on lavish items.

Not all want to stick around in their host country – most intend to return home after studying or wish to work in other countries.

But for a new international student, attempting to tackle the stereotypes can be daunting.

According to The Mancunion, many students prefer to stick to a group of friends that are from their home countries rather than get to know the locals because they fear being judged due to the harmful stereotypes.

“It appears that being antisocial is not the intention of many international students; instead, it often stems from anxiety about how we are being perceived. As a result, many feel that such stereotypes are inescapable, and not worth trying to subvert.”

“Because of this, distinct communities are created, as some students feel more comfortable amongst members of their own culture.”

That is unfortunate because in order to get the most out of a study abroad experience, it’s worth getting to know the locals and exploring the culture.

Here are some tips on how to tackle negative stereotypes as an international student.

Try to assimilate

It may be difficult at first, but try and talk to your classmates or dorm-mates. If anyone is rude to you, simply back away and try with other people.

People often stereotype because they don’t know any better. By getting to know you, they are more likely to see the error of their ways and realise you are so much more than your nationality or race.

While it’s perfectly fine to make friends with people from your own country, try widening your social circle to include those from other countries too.

Give them the benefit of the doubt and try to reach out. Not only will you make more friends, you build self-confidence and interpersonal skills while smashing stereotypes in the process.

Share your culture

Sharing your culture and heritage is a great way to show others that stereotypes are false. Invite friends over when you cook local cuisine, when you celebrate certain festivals or practise classroom presentations.

Recently, international students from Kent State shared their cultures through presentations, performances and traditional foods at the annual International Homecoming Celebration.

According to KentWired, “The event gave international students the opportunity not only to show love for their countries, but to teach those who might subscribe to stereotypes regarding religion, politics or social issues.

Noor Agustina, a PhD student from Indonesia, has worked at the International Homecoming Celebration for two years, using the event as an opportunity to break stereotypes about people from her home country.

She said, “Because our majority is Muslim, sometimes people think Muslim is a terrorist. I want to say we are not terrorists. We are friends. We are people. We are human.” 

Join student clubs


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Joining student associations or clubs is another way to get to know students from other countries and meet people who share similar interests.

When you share a common interest or passion, people will naturally see beyond the stereotypes and get to know you as an individual.

Singaporean politics student Justin Koh, who studies at the University of Melbourne, told VICE that he joined sports teams and started opening up more, which helped him overcome negative stereotypes.

“Mixing with Aussies has been really eye opening for me and really nice. I play football here and that’s how I’ve met locals. Culture-wise I feel Australians are more liberal, more carefree, which is great.

“There are things Singaporeans can actually learn from Aussie culture. They’re proactive and they voice their opinions. I think that’s commendable.

“In Melbourne Uni the local students voice their opinions freely and sometimes in class I feel I’m too quiet. But when I got to second year I started to talk.

“I thought maybe people wouldn’t understand my accent, that might be a stumbling block. But I managed to get over it. And so far it’s good. When I voice my opinion in class they’re actually very receptive to it.”

He advised other international students to “leave the bubble and hang out with locals”, but they might have to be patient when others tend to stereotype.
For example, he’s often forced to explain that his English is so good because he was taught to speak the language from an early age – just like most Singaporeans.

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