The inception of 21st century enhanced globalisation throughout the world. Many commentators termed the earth as a Global Village. Universities have become progressive centres for this globalisation. Similarly, having a student body belonging to more than 20 different nationalities, numerous creeds and various cultures, it is safe to say that The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus is a global university. But when analysing this claim, a pertinent question rises: how well integrated is UNMC’s diverse student body?
Interviewing a number of people, I got mixed reviews. A large segment of UNMC community believe that there is a partition between the locals and international students, but there was disagreement on how significant it is. Many pointed out the differences between certain ethnicities and the lack of inter-mingling between them. While some of them said that they don’t feel left out, or experience any social awkwardness around the campus.
While exchanging my views with a fellow student in our university cafeteria, he asked me to look around. The view exhibited an image of a diverse, multi-national audience. From the façade of it, this sight broadcasted an international scenario. But upon close inspection, you could highlight the segregation. Every table represented a certain nationality or ethnicity. All of us were grouped or classified. At that moment, I saw – we lacked cooperation and harmony. A lot of students suggested that this is the way it has been, hence there is no peculiarity in it.
According to my understanding, when you are at an international arena, it is most appropriate if you behave as an international citizen rather than isolate yourself into divisions. This will even aid in building up your personality as you would interact, meet and spend time with new people from different places, who have had entirely contrasting experiences from yourself.
A lot of us feel comfortable when we are with people we know, people with whom we could relate to, and people with whom we share a mutual perspective. Hence, numerous cultures blending together at the same place makes us feel alienated and probably insecure, which is the reason we stick to our own group. A lot of us have not had any international experience before coming to UNMC, which kind of makes us shy of one another. But then the eagerness and curiosity of acquiring and learning more should overcome this hesitation, paving a way for us to gain an international experience.
While talking to a few international students, they conceded to usually sticking with their own community, but a majority of them pointed out that they have a large number of international friends as well. It was disturbing when many of these students exclaimed that the ratio in which they spent time with internationals to locals is highly skewed in favour of the international community. They pointed out that they had acquaintances, but not so many friends, amongst locals. When further inquired as to their relationship with locals, they pointed out that Malaysian Malays and Indians were more approachable.
Some factors were repeatedly mentioned by students as the reason for this disparity. Both the locals and the internationals highlighted language barrier as the main culprit. There is a lack of communication between us because of our limited command over English, the mutual language. It’s culturally demeaning when anyone stops his/her association with their native language, but it’s also common courtesy to speak in English in front of others if they don’t comprehend your language. This way, more people could associate themselves with you and a proper channel of communication could be established. Personally, I have witnessed a few proceedings where societies communicated in their own local language. Measures such as these are discouraging for others. We should agree on the fact that we should adopt English as the medium to communicate within the university.
Another objection, raised by many internationals, was the limited or no effort from the locals. They told me that throughout the years, they have tried to bridge this gap, have exerted effort but were futile. This is a very bold claim to make, so I took a few locals’ intakes on this. Much to my dismay, they agreed to it. They told me that many of them come in groups from certain high-schools or cities from where they carry forward their social circle, hence they don’t feel the urge to interact with others. And if they do so, they can relate much more to locals of their own ethnicity than others.
Another logic was narrated to me by a local. He told me that before coming to UNMC, he had never met with any international student of his age. Hence he was sceptical of them and refrained from any contact with them. But soon, he initiated conversations with international students and found it to be a very enriching experience.
When more than 90% of people interviewed believed that there is a widening disparity, the question arises; should we be resisting the status quo? I believe yes. This segregation contradicts the essence of education and globalisation. It fails to inculcate in us a proper code of conduct and the professional training required to get a global job. It further undermines the cohesion amongst the various segments of our community at UNMC.
Talking to certain members of the management regarding this issue, they told me that they are introducing certain projects which aim at reducing this gap. These projects have yielded some early results. Seeing this sliver-lining, I would urge everyone in UNMC to live as one community with no divisions at all because before any country, creed or culture we all are humans.
I would end it with a mere civil engineering motto:
Let’s build bridges, not walls.
By Sheryar Nawaz Khan
Feature image source: Indiana University