UT international students reflect on their interactions with other students on campus

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Shama Gupta, Life & Arts Reporter

When Julian Munévar came to UT last fall, it was his fourth time moving to a different country. Born in Brazil, Munévar moved across Colombia, Turkey and the Philippines. Although used to interacting with people from different cultures, the communication studies freshman said integrating into an American university did not come without challenges. 

“I worried that people only saw me as an international student,” Munévar said. “Every time I make a friendship with someone, I’m always like, ‘How do they see me? Do they see me as some sort of foreigner or as one of them?’”

At a university composed of nearly 90% in-state students, many international students like Munévar struggle with self-doubt when interacting with non-international students. Despite their varying backgrounds, some international students said they feel a distinct connection to other international students, finding that their mutual differences give them unique yet comfortable friendships.

Munévar explained that two types of international students exist on UT’s campus — those who have stayed in their hometown their whole life, and those who have lived as an expat in different countries. With either one, he said he feels an instant click.

“There’s something about speaking to an international student that feels so easy,” Munévar said. “(Our connection) is so fast because we relate — we’re both out of place here.” 

Munévar said some of his international friends have a running joke they call “Third World country jitters.” They laugh about receiving Amazon packages within a day, or walking in the street with their phones without thinking about getting mugged, and how it shocks them at times. 

Undeclared freshman Vanessa Chen, an international student from Taiwan, said she finds connecting with other out-of-country students an almost natural experience, as if everything just falls into place.

“When I’m hanging out with international students, we just click because we’re all in a new environment (together),” she said. “We talk about the cultural differences, or how (something) in the US is different (from) something back at home.”

However, Chen said communicating in English makes connections with American students harder, and she hopes to work up to the level of comfortability she had when socializing with people while speaking Chinese in Taiwan. 

Alternatively, electrical engineering freshman Naman Parikh said he finds it easiest to connect with people from his home country, India, whether they are international students or not. 

“More than the country of origin, it’s the ethnicity or family dynamics that make a difference,” Parikh said. “Maybe their parents are from India, they’ve visited India a couple of times, or they know (Indian) customs. It’s easy to connect with them.”

Munévar said while he blends in with American students well, sometimes he feels a disconnect in the way he views the world compared to how some American students do.

“At the beginning of the year, I met a guy who I could tell was very close-minded,” Munévar said. “It’s totally fine to not leave the country — some people don’t have that privilege. But I could tell his vision wasn’t open to anything he hadn’t seen before.”

However, Munévar said he feels that most of his classmates and friends are not as closed off. Even if he experiences a disconnect from how “American” their ways of life are, he said he has made many lifelong friends. 

“I’ve made one of the best friends I’ve ever made in my entire life, and people here in general are really sweet,” Munévar said. “I’ve never once felt discriminated against for being different here. There’s been difficulties with specific people, but there’s also been really easy people to talk to.”