My Pennsylvania driver’s license expired on my graduation day this past May (along with my U.S. student visa, in case anyone’s keeping track). Since I am 22 years old and need my license for some obvious identification purposes, I set out to a nearby Department of Motor Vehicles to renew it. While most residents are eligible for online renewal, non-citizens aren’t offered the same courtesy.
I trekked to the DMV armed with (take a deep breath): my old license, my passport, my social security card, my visa, my visa documents, my I-94 (proof of my legal entry into this country), my employment authorization document, two official letters to my current address (proof of residency) and a check to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to fund this circus. Yeah, it’s a mouthful.
At this point, many readers will be surprised to learn that non-U.S. citizens can even have driver’s licenses, let alone social security cards. In fact, there’s a lot that American students aren’t aware of when it comes to us students from a little further afield, even though they are almost certainly sitting next to us in class.
Without sounding too dramatic, I truly believe there’s a fundamental gap in our intercultural communication here at Penn. Yes, international students can drive. Yes, we can work. Yes, it’s extremely complicated — why don’t you ask me about it sometime?
International students wade through mountains of paperwork starting from the moment we decide to apply to an American university (and the paperwork doesn’t stop once our visas expire on graduation day). Once accepted, we are subject to extremely strict rules regarding our course load, our work authorization and our travel.
Most non-international students aren’t aware of this — even my closest friends find it difficult to keep track of. But even a vague awareness of the complications can really enhance the collegiate atmosphere here at Penn.
“Home” students don’t know enough about their world-strewn colleagues who make this wonderful University so diverse. Penn’s curriculum throws cross-cultural and U.S. diversity requirements at its students, but the learning shouldn’t stop there.
A better understanding of what we international students have to go through could lead to better collaboration and a stronger support system. The first step to understanding is simple: interaction.
International students fall into three basic groups. The first group consists of those who self-segregate and hang out only with students from their own home country or those who speak the same language. These students make themselves inaccessible to other students — whether American or international.
The members of the second group try — despite their thick accents and culture shock — to join in with the “home” crowds. I truly believe that an accent can be a make or break trait for many students.
I’ve found that my own lack of accent has allowed me to push past both of these groups and fall into a third: international students who (almost) seamlessly join “home” groups.
I’m not saying that all international students need to shed their accents in order to make any American friends — this is just an observation I’ve made. I do think it’s important for Americans and non-Americans to ask each other about their cultures and experiences.
Asking each other where you’re from is a great start, but asking each other how you got to Penn and what those surely differing roads looked like is going to yield many interesting answers.
If non-internationals learned more about Penn’s international financial aid policies or the absurd procedures international students must go through to do anything other than study in this country, they could arm themselves with knowledge and make a difference. More voices in the Undergraduate Assembly mean a better campus life for everyone.
Don’t let your international friends be forced out of the country on graduation day without having this sort of chat with them — you’ll both learn from it. Wiktoria Parysek is a 2011 College graduate and former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist from Berlin. Her email address is email@example.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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