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The article recently published in SCAN, ‘Cartmel runs risk of becoming “International College”’, available online, was deeply disturbing. Along with fundamental misconceptions inherent in this text, it raises other profound questions which will be cursorily discussed here. Firstly, the article was based on a flawed understanding of the procedures of application for residence at Lancaster University. Far from international students ‘being placed in Cartmel because this is the most expensive accommodation on campus’, international, like British, students apply for the college which caters to their residential needs. There is no basis for the claim that ‘Cartmel being the international dumping ground is segregation’.
Secondly, the definition here (or lack of definition) of ‘international students’ is somewhat confused and confusing. Irish citizens are equally classed as ‘international’ as students from France, Russia, Ghana, or China. Are they all the same? Do they all find it difficult to integrate, and make British students feel ‘left out and marginalised in their own flats’? Are the flats ‘British’? Even more contentious is the use of the phrase ‘students indigenous to the country’. Aside from the fact that this is discursively dangerously close to BNP/EDL rhetoric, what exactly is meant by ‘indigenous’? Is there such a thing as an ethnic ‘Brit’ or ‘Englishman’? Never mind the country’s rich history of exchange with foreign peoples and cultures, even a look at surnames reveals the diversity of this country’s population (such comments bring to mind the recent furor over the ‘tram lady’ on youtube).
Thirdly, the article makes the rather erroneous analogy of a British student studying abroad in the USA. Would such an experience be comparable to a British student studying abroad in Ghana, India or China? Would a British student so readily integrate him or herself into the linguistic, cultural and culinary scenery so far abroad? The implication seems to be that our many students from Asia, Africa and the Middle East should be ‘drinking tea every day and having a roast every Sunday’. It is somewhat difficult to believe that most people could live up to such high (if intellectually under-developed) standards of integration if they were put in a similar situation.
Finally, the understanding of what the student experience is all about underlying the article seems rather naïve and hardly representative of the wide spectrum of the student body. Should studying in the UK be all about people subjugating themselves to the cultural norms of this country? Don’t many students revel in university life precisely because it is so culturally diverse? University is all about education – let us agree on that. Is it not one facet of education to learn about other cultures? Did the people cited in the article, when they lived in Cartmel, ever try to integrate their flatmates, ever offer to make them a cup of tea or a Sunday roast? Moving to a completely alien culture (as anyone who actually talks to their international flatmates, or has been far abroad, will know) is extremely intimidating, and a kneejerk reaction is to cling to that which is familiar. I’d ask anyone inclined to agree with this article: would you be any different if you went to study in an entirely foreign university?
I am a half-British, half-international student (make of that what you will) and have been at Lancaster University for many years. I live in Grad: the most ‘international’ college on campus. It would be naïve to claim that everyone here gets on all of the time, but that’s life. I am proud to be in such a multicultural environment, and have found it one of the most enriching experiences of my life. And all it takes is this: a little effort on everyone’s part to understand and communicate with the many diverse people around us, far too diverse to be passed off under the label ‘international’. In the light of recent events which affected my college, I was shocked and saddened to read this article, although, in fairness to the author, she produced this ill-conceived text before these events took place. I urge my fellow students and human beings to reconsider such prejudices and the sources of information before believing such rubbish. Think about it.