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The Barrier Between “Us” and “Them”

When I started here at The Northwest School, I learned that there was an international student program. I had never heard of any schools having an international student program. I thought that this was a good thing for adolescents at NWS from Seattle to meet kids from all over the world, but when I began here at school it seemed like NWS consisted of two different communities: dorm students and domestic students.  

Both domestic and dorm students have said that it is like there are two different communities in the school. In the hallways dorm students have been referred to as “them” when being talked about by many domestic students, or the other way around. I was really curious as to why there was such a big barrier between the international and the domestic students. I also wanted to learn more about what it’s like for international students to go to a school in a whole different country. I interviewed many dorm students and a few domestic students to get different perspectives on this issue.  

Language is a major reason for the barrier between the dorm and domestic students. Since English is many of the dorm students’ second or third languages, many of the domestic and dorm students I talked to said that they felt like it’s sometimes hard to communicate with one another. One domestic student expressed the reason that he doesn’t interact with the dorm students saying, “the international students always hang out in a big group. They go in packs, and it’s a bit scary to put yourself out there, you know? Especially when you’re trying to connect with some people who are already comfortable around each other, and you feel like the odd one out. They speak their native languages when they’re around each other, and it’d probably be really awkward to go over to them and randomly start talking to them in English.” The dorm perspective on the language barrier is that they feel like because their English is, as a ‘22 domestic student stated, “bad” the domestic students don’t want to put so much effort into trying to understand them. This is the result of many domestic students not going to talk to dorm students, and dorm students not going to talk to domestic students.

Another dorm student I talked to, who wishes to stay anonymous, talked about how she felt like the domestic students aren’t interested in friendship with her and the other dorm students. She also mentioned that she felt like because English isn’t her first language, and the dorm students and domestic students come from different countries, the dorm and domestic students don’t really have much to talk about. 

Talking to one of the class of ‘25 students, he said “People are all saying the language that I am not familiar enough with and quite different, it makes me feel strange, but I am getting used to it.” “The non-international students are nice, but we’re not really friends” 

 When I asked David (Jiaming) L. ‘22 about what his experience is like here at Northwest when interacting with the domestic students, he talked about how most of the domestic students were mostly just classmates and not friends with him. “I wouldn’t say friends, but we have known each other since we were in the same class as last year. I don’t really know them. I know their names and a bit of their personalities. We don’t really talk. So, I wouldn’t say we’re friends.” 

Language was not the only reason brought up by the students I interviewed for the major barrier between dorm and domestic students. For example, food is another major cultural difference.. Onedorm student said that “The food is very different.” One of her friends agreed and added that she felt like a lot of the “Asian” food here in capitol hill is good but, in their words, “Fwasian food” (Fake White Asian Food). She talked about how she felt like there wasn’t much to connect about with the domestic students because the dorm and domestic students are so different. Another girl from the class of ‘23 that I interviewed said that she felt like there wasn’t much to talk about with the domestic students here, because “We are different. We talk different. We think different. We don’t have things in common.” But she also said that “Even with our differences, I wish we were altogether, and not separate. I wish we could all be friends, and not be groups based off of race, language, color, or nationality” 

As much as the barrier is about major cultural differences, it is also about the fear that many students have of putting themselves out there to people who we think are very different from us. This barrier also looks like closing ourselves off to people who we feel have nothing in common with. For both dorm and domestic students, as much as we may have major cultural differences, we have to remember that we are all human. Even if we may be very different, we still have the capability of talking with one another. This is not about going and finding a dorm or domestic student and becoming best friends, but it is about the fact that there has been a big want for connection from all students, so take a step, and try to connect with one another. 


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