Of all the residence halls, Xavier is certainly the loneliest. Situated in a corner of campus, Xavier is physically the most remote residence hall at Seattle University. But the gap between Xavier and the rest of campus is much deeper and more subtle than geographic distance. The gap is a cultural one.
Xavier is a Global House, meaning it plays host to a large number of international students and exchange students studying at Seattle U. Xavier exists as place for cultural exchange between domestic and international students.
Martha Palomino, a senior Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Double Major, has been an RA for three years, two of which were in Xavier. In her opinion, the Xavier community is beneficial to both domestic and international students “[Living in Xavier] is a two-way street. We learn about them and they learn about us,” said Palomina. “Xavier is one of a kind.”
However, Palomino is critical of how isolated Xavier feels from the rest of campus, noting that it was rare for someone from another residence hall to come to a Xavier event.
Senior Jack Hilton, a Xavier RA, echoed many of Palomino’s comments about Xavier, especially when it came to the sense of community.
“It’s a smaller community, people know one another, everyone knows one another’s names,” said Hilton. “You see a lot of community gatherings, especially around the kitchen.”
While Hilton spoke highly of Xavier, he also described an unintended consequence of this strong sense of community. Sophia University, a Japanese school, sends dozens of exchange students to Seattle U, many of whom room together in Xavier. According to Hilton, these students tend to maintain their existing friendships with other students from Sophia University.
“There are clumps of international students that will hang out with domestic students, but I tend to see international students, especially from Sophia University, hanging out with other students from Sophia University,” Hilton said.
Hilton sees this as a problem, claiming that, “[The school] should spread them out a little bit. They want to get out…and be immersed. They should have the experience of living with a domestic student.”
Hannah Pantaleo, a former Xavier RA, also saw two sides of Xavier. While she said that living in Xavier was a great experience, she also said that “hosting a majority of the international and exchange students in one residence hall…doesn’t foster the idea of global education because it hinders a majority of the SU population from being easily exposed to people of international background.”
Both domestic and international students feel the negative side effects of the situation. By lumping so many of the on-campus international students together in a “Global House,” Seattle U has ensured that most domestic students have very little contact with international students. Domestic students not living in Xavier are largely unaware of the 10 percent of the campus that is from a foreign country. International exchange programs are intended to benefit both the host and the visitor, but most Seattle U students are simply unaware that they are playing host to 600 international students. This is a common phenomenon nationwide: a recent study showed that 38 percent of international students studying in the U.S. had no close American friends.
Hilton thinks the school should change the way they assign international students dorm rooms.
“I think that an international student needs to live with a domestic student. If [international students are] grouped together, they’re going to stay together.”
But as Hilton will be the first to admit, mandating that international students be paired with domestic students presents other problems. It would deprive international students of the right to choose their own roommates, a right that domestic students are virtually guaranteed. Any such move could also have legal ramifications—making significant housing decisions based on national origins could be seen as a violation of Seattle U’s non-discrimination policy. But unless a significant policy change is made, the separation between Xavier and the rest of campus isn’t going to get any smaller.
The discussion about cultural gaps reveals a subtle bias in domestic students. By obsessing over the idea of cultural integration, we’re assuming international students are here because they want to learn about American culture. But isn’t it possible that they’re here simply because Seattle U is a good school? It’s easy to assume that learning about American culture is the most important thing about exchange programs, but there’s a reason international students are going to school here instead of just moving to Seattle for year.
That isn’t to say that the programs and events centered on cultural exchange are stupid or racist. On the contrary, programs put on by the International Student Center generally demonstrate great cultural sensitivity. But it’s important to remember that for many international students, the biggest obstacles have nothing to with language barriers or culture shock.
For instance, senior Niraj Kamat, an international student from India, says that some of the biggest obstacles for him at Seattle U are academic and financial. In particular, Kamat is critical of Seattle U’s tutoring services for math and foreign languages.
“We have a great Writing Center, but we don’t have a proper tutoring center,” said Kamat.
Kamat also had trouble finding employment in Seattle. This is a common problem for international students, most of whom don’t have work visas.
“Luck was on my side,” Kamat said. “I found an internship.”
Internships are often the best choice for international students who struggle finding employment. International students without permission to work are allowed to take an internship if it relates to a class or academic program.
Finding employment is essential for many international students since they don’t qualify for financial aid from the U.S. federal government. Only 11 percent of international students receive financial aid. For many, finding a job is the only way to pay for school. Many, including Kamat, are forced to take on high-interest loans. Many of the loans international students take out have interest rates of over 11 percent. Unlike loans taken out by domestic students, these loans are not subsidized by the government. Many international students are forced to pay hundreds of dollars a month in interest for these loans.
Despite these problems, Kamat is happy that he is here, saying that “the experience has been great.” Kamat attributes some of this to his involvement with the International Student Center. The ISC provides a range of services to international students, and puts on hundreds of events each year, including International Week, which won an award from the American College Personnel Association last year. An estimated 2,000 students are involved in International Week every year.
Ryan Greene, director of the International Student Center, thinks events like these are pivotal to Seattle U’s goal of global engagement. “We see a wide mix of people at these events,” said Greene. “They’re about half international students and half non-international.”
Greene echoed Kamat’s statements about the financial woes of International students. According to him, money problems are the biggest problem international students face. Greene’s office is able to with some of these issues, such as problems involving U.S. tax law.
But no matter how successful Greene and his staff have been, there is still a vast gap between Xavier and the rest of campus, a gap that isn’t going to be bridged any time soon.
Adrian may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org