Meet Your Neighbor: International Diplomacy Begins at Home

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Photo Courtesy of the International Student Advisory Board

Lauren Roberts

There’s something thrilling about traveling:going somewhere far away and meeting people with different opinions, lifestyles, and food. We live in a culture where you can get a sneak peek into what Indonesia is like by Googling it or maybe even scrolling through your Explorer feed on Instagram before class. But how often do we look for diversity in the form of new cultures, food, and lifestyles in our own community?

We have over 2,500 international students at UCSB, representing more than 45 different countries. College Factual brags about how popular UCSB is with international students — how could they resist the surf, sun, mountains, and amazing academics at the fifth best public school the nation has to offer?

What if I told you you could experience the world without leaving the beautiful beaches and warm sand of Santa Barbara? Because you can.

Make an effort to make international friends. They don’t have the same support systems us domestic students have. They often report feeling out of place — if you’ve ever traveled you can probably relate to that overwhelming feeling.

Through interviews and surveys, since the International Student Advisory Board was founded in winter 2018, it continues to find the same result: international students report wanting to make longer lasting bonds with domestic students.

Americans are super friendly, but usually only extend one-time help — like answering a simple homework question — and international students find it hard to create deeper, more long lasting friendships with domestic students.

However, when those relationships do form, they are so valuable. They help the domestic student expand their perspective and help the international student integrate. I am constantly impressed with how willing to try new things they are. Santa Barbara really does attract a certain kind of person.

I will always be thankful for my French friend and freshman year hall mate who later became one of my best friends and go-to adventure buddies. Everything she saw was with a new perspective I hadn’t considered. For example, I started to wonder why we said “apple” the way we do and why we would never kiss a friend of the cheek as a greeting.

She opened my eyes to nuances of my own culture and then when I had the chance to meet her in Paris last year, she showed me the nuances of hers. It all started with a conversation.

That’s the thing, it always starts with a conversation. Take a chance. Try something new and make friends with that international student down the hall, in your section, or in your lecture hall. At least say hi and ask where they’re from. We can only expect from others what we are willing to give. If you were taking the risk to study in another country, how would you want to be treated?

International students are here for a wide variety of reasons. Some choose to attend UCSB because they want to take advantage of unique opportunities or because they have a really compelling personal reason to study here — ask them about it!

Ask them what they like to do at UCSB and then build some long lasting bonds. All of us have the potential to practice international diplomacy at home and leave international students with a positive view of our culture, lifestyles, and foods while simultaneously learning about theirs!

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