Globalised groups or isolated internationals: Warwick students on connecting across cultures.
As borders between countries and continents are relentlessly eroded by the force of globalisation, people of different origins and cultures come increasingly in contact with each other. But how does this trend apply to the university environment, more specifically at Warwick? Our university boasts 9500 international students from 147 different countries, providing a multicultural and diversified environment which should allow us to be immersed in a variety of cultures and interact with all kinds of people, right? Though as an incoming student I deemed this a certainty, my experience has made me reconsider this statement. My first weeks at Warwick were characterised by a myriad of casual and superficial interactions with students of all origins, in a whirlwind of names, study majors and nationalities, all of which led me to an eye-opening revelation: I was quickly gravitating towards the community of students from my home country. I was left wondering what had brought me closer to my fellow Italian students as I ultimately came to the admittedly predictable conclusion that we are inevitably linked by the same culture and language. After all, as a member of a minority in a new country, hearing someone talk in your native language can be a bright beacon in a sea of unfamiliar faces. Nevertheless, I kept asking myself whether university truly stimulates international integration, or it rather polarises students from different ethnic backgrounds. In an attempt to find an answer to this question, The Boar conducted an investigation on the patterns of socialisation at the University of Warwick, asking students to express their opinions on the matter.
The uncertainty-ridden personal independence one is met with when starting university often overwhelms students as they are forced to adapt to new habits and routines. Having to juggle classes, events and assignments can often prove to be challenging and many find socialising to be a means of escaping the struggles of university life. The opportunities to make new acquaintances at uni are countless, from societies to parties and university events, as socialising undoubtedly represents one of the key aspects of student experience. After all, the people we get to know and spend time with unavoidably influence what we get out of our time at university and more broadly our mental health, which, according to a recent study, university students often struggle with. Therefore, the importance of socialisation patterns at university cannot be overstated and, in my opinion, should be better understood.
Many find socialising to be a means of escaping the struggles of university life
What The Boar sought to investigate was the effects of Warwick’s international environment on the student’s socialisation decisions. As part of the investigation, The Boar conducted a survey and several interviews which allowed me to get a better idea of how students approach the university’s social life. The results tell of a wide range of experiences as students of all provenances describe a variety of tendencies with one common denominator: the centrality of human interactions in the adventure that is studying at university.
In the survey, questions aimed at understanding the students’ socialisation patterns yielded varied responses with most respondents (69%) describing themselves as “outgoing” while a considerable majority (59%) spend between 2 and 3 hours socialising every day. Students at Warwick seem to find it easier to make new acquaintances through other shared friends, a piece of information which could be both interpreted as an indication of a stimulating and cohesive environment and a limiting tendency between students as they might rarely seek connections outside their friend group. The introduction of the cultural element also revealed interesting inclinations. Most students answered “at university” when asked whether it is easier to get to know people at home or at uni, however, in the following question, the consensus was that students from the same country are easier to make friends with compared to internationals. This response paints an interesting picture. Though university seems to provide fertile ground for significant connections, this might only be true between students of the same nationality, a detail which signals a divide between scholars of different origins. Finally, to gain an understanding of the effects of university on self-perception, students were asked whether studying at Warwick had strengthened their national identity, to which more than double the students answered “yes” as opposed to “no”. What at first just seems an interesting result, could unveil the true effect of studying at Warwick as foreign students especially might find in their nationality a sense of belonging and identity while residing overseas, possibly influencing their socialisation behaviour.
Warwick undoubtedly encourages a multi-ethnic environment
As we continued to pursue the search for an answer, I decided to interview some international students on their experience at Warwick. Starting as an informal chat, the interview soon turned into a deep conversation that explored many aspects of social life. What emerged were mixed opinions clearly influenced by a variety of events the internationals experienced while at uni. All of them agreed on the fact that talking and interacting with students of their own nationality is enjoyable as their mutual experiences as international students bring them closer together. However, the same agreement was shared for the notion that groups of foreign students can often be closed if not “toxic” as one of the interviewees stated resentfully. A question on student friendships generated an interesting response as one of the students revealed that, while making friends with people of different cultures is stimulating and widens the breadth of experiences one can have, it is often challenging to build deeper relationships with them. This answer led to a reflection on the factors that encourage friendships, making us all realise that especially at university, students are more likely to spend time together if they share a similar background, and one’s background is most certainly influenced by his home country’s culture. As the discourse progressed, one key element clearly emerged as most of the answers started to end with a repetitive “…it depends”. The unanimous belief seemed to be that socialisation decisions certainly depend on the type of person one is.
Their mutual experiences as international students bring them closer together
The results gathered tell a unique story full of contradictions. Yes, cultural differences influence who we get to know at university but at the same time, everyone displays different and unique characteristics that go beyond their origins. Yes, it is easier to approach someone that speaks your first language, nonetheless, students appreciate and cherish international friendships. Warwick undoubtedly has a vibrant and ever-changing environment that provides the necessary preconditions to indulge in the discovery of new customs and cultures. But perhaps, these opportunities are not fully exploited by the students as hints of divisions due to cultural barriers were gathered throughout the investigation. The implications of this separation could be significant. A lack of cohesion within the cohort would limit the number of experiences students could enjoy. Exclusive friend groups might encourage “toxic” and myopic environments. Refraining from making new international acquaintances could hinder our open-mindedness.
We should remember that the risks of fostering a divided and disconnected community are countless
Results at hand, the last step remaining is to find an answer to my question. Warwick undoubtedly encourages a multi-ethnic environment with plenty of opportunities to engage with students of different nationalities, in group projects, societies or socials. Nonetheless, we often prefer to frequent students from our home country instead of internationals. We should not frown upon this attitude as, after all, it is completely understandable; we should, however, also remember that the risks of fostering a divided and disconnected community are countless, likely as many as the benefits of stimulating a united and intertwined cohort. Having said this, my search has led me to believe that it is often hard to discern what makes us gravitate towards certain people, and while language and culture might serve as influences that subconsciously guide us in the never-ending adventure that is our social life, what counts is what we exchange with fellow students: be it friendship, admiration, affection, or love.