When talking with my Emerson friends, I dread the inevitable moment when U.S. politics come up in conversation, because I know I will have nothing to say. As an international student, I am not very familiar with the topic and I don’t want to ask questions because I don’t want my peers to think I am ignorant. But international students shouldn’t feel ashamed to ask questions when it comes to issues they don’t know about—it’s okay to not know everything.
I started learning English when I was 5 years old. I have been preparing to study in the U.S. since high school. I studied so hard to get here, and I thought by now I would know everything about this country so I could make friends and fit in easily. But I soon realized that living and learning in this country is much more complicated than I thought. After putting all this effort into preparing to study in America, realizing that there’s still so much to learn can be overwhelming and intimidating.
Studying at a liberal arts school like Emerson is even more of a challenge for international students. There are a lot of new concepts and new ideas that we need to learn and adjust to, especially when the student body is very socially and politically aware. It took me a few weeks to get used to students introducing themselves with their pronouns as a common practice. I felt so anxious to meet new people for the first few weeks—afraid I would say the wrong thing or offend someone, just because I don’t have the same American education my peers do, and still had so much to learn.
Emerson students tend to talk about U.S. politics like everyone possesses the same amount of background knowledge and history as them. But they need to realize that students come from varied backgrounds and different parts of the world. After all, Emerson prides itself on its diversity and global focus. It’s not that international students don’t know anything about U.S. politics—but that we are still learning. While we want to ask questions and participate, it’s easy to fear that our inquiries might make us seem ignorant or rude.
Sometimes I feel lost even in class. I know professors have the right to expect that everyone in their classroom share a common sense of U.S. politics and social issues. But they can also be more considerate and explain more when discussing these issues so international students don’t feel ashamed to ask for clarification. I want to see domestic students and professors allow for a learning curve and make political conversations accessible to everyone. Don’t shame international students for not participating as often, or not understanding everything about political correctness and American government. Instead of shaming, start a conversation.
As international students, the key to learning and understanding is asking questions so we can participate more in the future. There’s nothing to fear—there is no shame in asking questions. You’re asking because you care.