The Withdrawn Wildcats: Villanova’s International Students



Different school children on earth globe and school background in flat style

By: Ha H. Dinh

The skyline is pristine beyond imagination. As I take in the coral sky, creamy clouds, and cottony wind, my phone notifies me of a junior who needs help transferring his personals from Austin to Klekotka. Since the assistance requires minimal effort and is another excuse for me to appreciate the sky from Main to West, I rush to Austin. Before long, the walk embeds in my memory as one of the most, if not the most, backbreaking walks. The box is stronger than my unexercised arms, I realize.

That box resembles the lives of many international students at Villanova. It is harder to carry than any of them expected it to be. At the beginning of the school year, international students are filled with excitement. From the date of application, to intervals demanding patience, to the (bursting) contentment knowing they are now members of an excellent higher education community, to the flights landing them further from home and closer to their new one. Nonetheless, the Villanova reality disillusions many international students. 

On campus, many either walk alone or with members of the same minority race, rarely with another American peer. The same callous division between them and the American students permeates dining locations and classes where the integration is minimal. Before long, their transition becomes unpleasant and tiring. This plight of Villanova international students, where an increasingly diverse but helpless population feels desolate, is alarming not only to the student body themselves, but also to the overall mission of Villanova: “unitas, caritas, veritas” in which the experience of international students at Villanova is excluded from this mission. The question is no longer about the legitimacy of the international students’ listlessness at Villanova, but the sophisticated yet commonly neglected causation for such scenario.

There are two sides to this phenomenon. From my standpoint, both the American students and the international students are at fault. A considerable portion of American students at Villanova University do not attempt to interact with the international students. Because of their distinctive conservative backgrounds and religious affiliations, they find little reason to associate with those that who are not familiar with. The language barrier deepens this separation. Since English is not the first language for many international students, they cannot fully comprehend academic information, let alone colloquial jokes of their American counterparts. 

Another layer contributing to separatism on campus is the American liberal culture that may contrast too much with more traditional cultures. For example, American students disrespect both professors and other students in heated debates and through the use of electronic devices in class, both of which are hardly tolerable realities in Asian communities. These exogenous barricades reiterate the deplorable reality that the international students are incommunicably distant from their old home yet, at the same time, ironically, further from their new one.

The struggle of the international students, however, is accentuated because of their own actions. Some of them choose not to associate with the American students. The more popular kids in high school back home are no longer popular here, yet they refuse to approach the American students because of their previously held elite status. Others bemoan their decision to come to Villanova instead of a more recognized and culturally diverse institution, thereby refusing to engage in lasting relationships here. Such refusal to be a part of the very community that has generously welcomed them is unfathomable and appalling to me. 

Not only do they fail to make the most out of their four years here, they also suffer from gross misrepresentation and ignorance. In other words, they have been, and will continue to, incorrectly identify their place in the community and fail to recognize their potential in a pool of talent at Villanova. Worse, they establish a double standard where their initial interest in Villanova, which stems from its latest rise from a regional college to a national university, dissolves due to its lack of diversity. Such transition in preeminence does not immediately translate to cultural complexity; new international faces cannot expect the same multitude of diversity as those at other institutions who have been recognized as a national university for a notably longer period. These commonly unreasonable expectations disquiet the international students’ experience at Villanova. They have marginalized themselves. 

The international student community, nonetheless, can resolve its situation by simply embracing vulnerability by establishing relationships with their American dormmates and classmates. What matters is the willingness to interact with those around them and, more importantly, the courage to admit that they live in a country that, although possesses a phenomenal education system, neither speaks the same language nor has people coming from identical backgrounds. The acceptance of this reality produces temporary unease but, in return, inspires the international students to yearn for an enhanced understanding of the culture that is a prerequisite to their academic and professional success in the United States. Small efforts like asking their roommates how they’re doing and inviting them out for a dinner in a place as fancy as the Spit can make a world of difference. They can also take advantage of group projects in class to better understand their classmates who could, and definitely will, assist them whenever they struggle with coursework. These are simpler to carry out than they seem, but they too transcend the international students’ Villanova experience in ways almost unimaginable.

If by now you still hold adequate interest in the article and doubt in the writer’s authority, you may ask who I am to judge and give advice to the entire Villanova international student body. I am neither a culture scholar nor a trusted member of the institution’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. I am, however, an international student, possibly with a longer experience of being an international student and a much more pleasant experience as Wildcat here. I was lucky enough to be an international student back home, Vietnam, and I do not lie when I say I struggled the way you do here at Villanova given the same, aforementioned reasons. But I chose to make the best out of my privilege being an international student, by my purposeful interactions with different groups of people. This choice has made me enjoy my experience more while at the same time developing pride in my identity as a Vietnamese. I love my American roommates Simon and Ted, my floor and dorm mates, my classmates, and they just as much love my identity as a Vietnamese, because I do not hesitate to reach out and embrace my character even on a campus that is six thousand miles away from home and of a completely unfamiliar culture.

I do, eventually, manage to deliver the package to Klekotka. Immediately when I realize how weak and unexercised my arms are, I also realize that there will be many Vietnamese upperclassmen moving from Main to West with big boxes. I will eventually be one of those carrying such heavy boxes, while other international students who do not travel home in the winter will be in no different pairs of shoes. Our walks, however, do not have to be as arduous if we will to exercise our arms. The Villanova experience for international students, likewise, does not have to be as painful if we have the readiness to reach out to our fellow American peers. By then, the international Wildcats will no longer wish for their integration on campus because it is already there. In our mind and at the heart of an unceasingly maturing institution.