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Sep 25 2015
by Isabell Gerbig

7 Things International Students Are Sick of Hearing

By Isabell Gerbig - Sep 25 2015
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1. “Your English is SO good!”

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Classic mistake. Just because someone isn't from the States, doesn’t mean they can’t speak English. In fact, there are over 50 countries where English is either an official or a primary language. Also, having an accent doesn't make you any less fluent. We don't think British people are bad at English, so why should we think any differently of someone from Singapore or India?

2. “Do you have internet where you’re from?”

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There are so many things wrong with this question. First of all, this person has probably traveled halfway around the world to study in the U.S. That means that they applied for school the same way you did, almost definitely through CommonApp or the school website or something else on (yes, you guessed it) the internet! Even in the developing world, over 30% of people have internet. It's ridiculous to think that they've made it all the way here without the help of the internet. 

3. Constant comparisons of the U.S. to where we’re from. 

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There's always that one person that's trying to prove that the U.S. can't be beat, saying things like: "Yes, I know where you used to live things were nice, but do you have Reese's Pieces where you're from?" As an American, there's certainly a lot to be proud of, but international students don't need to be constantly reassured that the U.S. is the best country in the world. International students have seen enough of the world to be able to gauge what's good and bad about each country they visit (and sometimes a definitive conclusion may never be reached). It's not always necessary to stack up one culture against another! Getting the best of both worlds is what it's all about. 

4. “You’re from Taiwan? I love Thai food!”

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Confusing two completely different countries can either reduce someone's country and background to irrelevance or prove your complete and utter stupidity. If you're not entirely sure where someone is from, ASK THEM. Don't mix and match cultures like it's some kind of game. It can be quite insensitive and hurtful. Same thing goes for saying "Do you speak African?" Africa is not a country. It's a continent. Don't lump 54 countries into one massive group. 

5. Assumptions that stereotypes are true, or borderline racism.

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Not all Chinese are good at math, not all Jamaicans are fast runners, and not all Germans are Nazis. Don't assume anything about the person standing in front of you based on where they come from. Stereotyping seems harmless but creates a culture where we tend to view people based on assumptions rather than cold hard facts, which can be dangerous. 

Also never say things like "I don't usually think Black/Hispanic/Asian/mixed race people are pretty, but you definitely are!". It makes generalizations about an entire race of people that you'd generally do better to avoid. This is definitely a comment that seems to mean well, but ends up being terribly offensive when on the receiving end as it is borderline racist and undermines the traits of large groups of people. 

6. When people speak really slowly to be "better understood." 

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Treating someone differently because of where they come from is never okay. When you speak really slowly to bring your point across to an international student, it seems as though you don't have confidence in their abilities. It can really affect the confidence of an international student who is trying hard to fit in a country they are clearly not native to and generally causes them to harbor even more insecurities about being an outsider.

7. “You’re so exotic!"

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In my experiences, this is usually directed at Asian women, but can be directed to many other international students. It's problematic because claiming that someone is exotic implies that they're "other" or they're different from what you're used to. Well, seeing as Asians literally make up half of the world's population (almost over 3.5 billion), they're actually in the majority, so they're not as exotic as you might think. Plus, this is also a type of a backhanded compliment, because you're claiming that someone is prettier than what is generally expected of someone of their heritage. You're subconsciously giving them approval for being up to your standards, which generally indicates that you think you're superior. A seemingly harmless comment like this can actually be seen as racist and insensitive, so watch what you say!


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Isabell Gerbig - Bryn Mawr College

Isabell Gerbig is a freshman at Bryn Mawr College, planning to major in Comparative Literature. She’s a Third Culture Kid and started learning her fourth and fifth language in high school. As a former swimmer, she empathizes with everyone who still has to endure morning practices. Instagram: isabellringingg.

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