How not to talk to international students

Image courtesy of Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

My experience of being an international student at Kent.

The purpose of this article is not to berate, or criticise anyone who has said the following statements or similar things. Rather, the aim here is to shed light on what it’s like being on the receiving end of these statements and to convey how they can be perceived by an international student like myself. Typically, these statements are not meant maliciously but they do have the potential to be indelicate towards the other party.

“Are you from the States?”

I understand that there is a general trend in the international accent where we feature an ‘Americanised’ pronunciation of words, but it can be annoying hearing this question for the 100th time. What’s worse is insisting that someone is lying when they say they’re not from America or continue to make jokes about it. While this is not particularly serious, it is a frustrating situation to deal with. An easier question to ask is : “where is your accent from?”. It’s best not to always refer to America when the rest of the world exists.

“Your English is SO GOOD”

To start, this is not a compliment. The chances are that the majority of international students went to a school where they were taught in English or taught English as a subject. English is spoken by most of our parents at home, and in a lot of cases, it is our first language. Hearing this statement may be a compliment to someone who was not raised with the language and had recently learnt it but still it can be conveyed as quite patronising. Also, in this situation, hearing this sentence repeatedly can be degrading, especially if you’ve been speaking English your whole life.

“You haven’t seen / done X?!”

I understand that it is easy to compare others’ experiences with the experiences you have had; I am guilty of doing the same thing. It is unfair, however, to expect international students to know everything that encompasses British culture or pop culture. While there are amazing British TV shows, personalities, and sights to see, when an international person is unsure of what you are referring to, it is easier to explain the situation rather than to emphasise the gap in their knowledge. I wouldn’t expect someone raised in England to be well versed in Singaporean cultural references and sights.

These are some of the most common situations that I have experienced during my time at university. I appreciate that not every person that has said this to me has meant it in a negative or derogatory way, and I wholeheartedly believe that saying these things do not make you a discriminatory or disrespectful person. These are just common ways of phrasing things that I would suggest avoiding when speaking to an international person. This way we don’t feel so ostracised and it better facilitates our adjustment to university life outside of our home country.

Featured Posts


Share your thoughts