By Joshua Kalenga
‘Non-resident alien’ may not sound like the most respectful phrase to describe a human being, but it is the term the government uses to categorize most of Colorado College’s international students.
In all fairness, international students at CC may sometimes feel like ‘aliens’ because they do come from places with different cultures and languages. However, speaking as an international student myself, and given the diversity of experience that international student life at CC entails, the term ‘non-resident alien’ is far from apt.
For many international students, studying in the U.S. — and at CC specifically — certainly has its perks. For instance, Filip Čarnogurský ’23, from Slovakia, is struck by how approachable and friendly CC’s professors are, despite being so accomplished. Another international student, Britta Lam ’20, from Hong Kong, said she likes the fact that people in the U.S. talk openly about critical issues like race, sexuality, and gender.
“Those sorts of discussions have been useful for me because they have provided me with the vocabulary to think about such problems,” Lam said.
Anya Quesnel ’23, from Trinidad and Tobago, said she is grateful for the financial aid and study abroad opportunities that CC provides to international students. However, she said that what she values most about her experience so far is the people she’s had the opportunity to meet.
“People make everything worth it,” Quesnel said.
While studying in the U.S. can be a blessing for CC’s international students, it also comes with the sacrifice of the things back home that they love and cherish most.
For Quesnel, studying at CC means that she has almost nobody to speak Creole with on a regular basis. “I miss the banter,” she said. “It’s just not the same in English. Creole has lots of words for joy and hilariousness, and so speaking it makes it easier to connect with these emotions.”
Lam also laments having to speak English most of the time instead of Cantonese. “The jokes are so different, and we don’t usually sugarcoat things when we speak Cantonese,” she said.
On the other hand, some students miss their families the most. “I come from a large family and so I miss spending time with my siblings,” Čarnogurský said. “I enjoy every minute with them.”
Along with the things they miss, international students often wish they could find certain elements from home at CC. Quesnel wishes that CC’s parties were more like the ones back home. She describes parties in Trinidad and Tobago as “spiritual” and “a form of expression and communication.”
When away from home, it can be comforting to discuss one’s home country and culture with others. CC’s international students, however, sometimes find that other students do not know much about their home country.
For Lam, this has changed somewhat because of the extensive news coverage that has been afforded to Hong Kong since the beginning of the anti-extradition protests in June. Still, she said that CC students tend to either be well-versed on Hong Kong or clueless.
Quesnel, on the other hand, complained that some students do not even know the geographical location of Trinidad and Tobago. She also worries that some of the people who do know about her country only have a commercialized view of it. Similarly, Čarnogurský said that he sometimes feels the need to disprove Eastern European stereotypes.
“Life in Slovakia is not the same as the life portrayed in the ‘Eurotrip’ movie,” he said.
CC has committed itself to the principle of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity,’ but do CC’s international students feel that the institution is diverse and inclusive enough?
Čarnogurský said even though he wishes there were more Eastern European students at CC, he is happy there are a number of people in the school who can communicate with him in his native language, Slovak. He added that taking part in extracurricular activities and outdoor trips has helped him feel more included here. On the other hand, Quesnel felt that her region of the world, the Caribbean, is not well represented at CC. Moreover, she said that despite finding it easy to initiate conversations, it can sometimes be difficult to sustain relationships with other students. For Lam, the difference in values, norms, and humor between CC and what she is used to at home sometimes makes it difficult to feel included at the school.
At risk of undermining the diverse perspectives of each international student, it can be claimed that there are similarities in the experiences of CC’s international students. Quesnel, Lam, and Čarnogurský all noted that it is sometimes easier for them to connect with other international students because of the shared experience of being a “foreigner” in the U.S.
At the same time, in talking to them, one gets the sense that each of these students has a unique and exciting story to tell; not only about Hong Kong, Trinidad and Tobago, or Slovakia, but about their individual life experiences as well.
Indeed, if one invests time and effort in getting to know any of CC’s international students, they will likely come to realize that there is much to be learnt from them. They are, as should be obvious, much more than just ‘non-resident aliens.’