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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Diversity And Self-segregation At USC

Some international students say they have trouble making connections at USC.

University of Southern California is considered a diverse campus, but some say each nationality or ethnic group tends to connect with people of the same background. While one of the main reasons for that is a certain level of comfort in identifying with people of a similar culture, some students feel isolated as a result.

“When I came here the first time, I had problems with the culture, with friends, because I don’t know everyone,” said Tiwakorn Chomkamsii, a student from Thailand. Other students have echoed the same concerns.

“I’ve tried. I did 'English Corner.' It’s a course about just talking with Americans,” said Chitai Chaen from China. He did however admit that he was partly to blame, citing academic commitments as one of the reasons he may not have tried hard enough to establish friendships with American students.

Chaen’s best friend, Ji Yang, is also from China. Yang said that he would like to take up conversational classes in English if they were offered, to give him the confidence he needs to communicate in English.

That said, international students aren't the only ones finding themselves spending time with others from the same culture.

“It’s just easier to hang out with people who understand you,” said Jamie Harrison, a half-African American, half-Hispanic business student. “Not to say that other people and other races don’t get you, but just sometimes it’s more of a stretch for them to get you. And sometimes there are cultural differences, like with joking, there is something you miss a little bit.”

Haley Colleman, a communication student and a representative from the USC Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, agrees with Harrison.

“I think it’s ok that people want to request to have roommates of the same color or same background. I think it goes back to familiarity,” she said. “Especially when you are coming to college and you’re away from home, sometimes it’s essential to feel like some part of home is with you.”

Colleman believes that certain conversations are better understood by people of the same background, and that’s why she usually has them with her African American roommate. She did, however, point out that only five percent of USC students are African Americans, a number that pales in comparison with the 34 percent of Caucasians, or even the nearly one-quarter of international students at USC. She hopes more African Americans will apply to USC in the future, but she also thinks the university could place more importance on the issues faced by the black community.

“Black students petitioned that there should be a house for African American students where we can use it for cultural events, students could live in the house, different things like that. And literally for the past couple of years, it is yet to be passed,” she said, noting that houses on the Row are predominantly white. Colleman did however consider that for international students, more efforts need to be made to help them connect with Americans.

“I almost don’t like that there is a residential college just for them, because I feel like what happens is they link them all together, and that also creates a barrier for them to interact with the American students on campus,” she added. “I would love if the Chinese students hosted a Chinese event where they are talking about their culture,” she said about bridging cultural gaps and promoting better cross-cultural understanding.

Ariel Suarez from the Office of International Services did confirm that the university is planning on organizing such events, like the upcoming Thanksgiving match-up. This initiative will allow 100 international students to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with an American family, helping them learn more about American history, culture and traditions.

In order to connect with their American peers, Harrison and Colleman believe that international students should be encouraged to keep an open mind, in addition to knowing what centers are available on campus and what events they host, such as those organized by “Visions and Voices.”

“Just get connected,” Suarez said. “Go and challenge yourself, try something new, start talking to your classmates. Build that connection, because in the long run, networking is great.”

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