What is the ‘international student culture’ at Southampton? I would define a member of the University of Southampton’s international community as anyone who has come here to study from another country, whether for a semester or their whole degree. The international student culture is, therefore, any event offered to these students. This would include activities as diverse as the university’s international welcome week, an Erasmus party and a Greek night.
That said, there is a big difference between an Erasmus student studying here for a semester and an international student spending four years in Southampton. Most full-time international students will inevitably be more integrated into university life because they start university at the same time as all other students.
Likewise, Erasmus students tend to stick together because they arrive in Southampton at the same time. UK students are less likely to have an opportunity to meet exchange students, although it is true that they will probably be less inclined do to so anyway once they have made friends in their first year.
It is easier to get involved with Erasmus students if you do languages – many UK languages students have spent time abroad (or will do), so they have something in common with the Erasmuses. But everyone I spoke to, including languages students, felt that there was a definite divide between UK students and some international groups, such as the large number of Chinese who tend to just speak to each other.
Yet David, a Physics student, suggests that this is partially ‘because of the University’s international welcome week’. International students are encouraged to meet each other before meeting everyone else and this can lead to the formation of exclusive friendship groups.
If a group of international students speaks in their own language rather than in English then UK students do feel excluded as they are unable to communicate.
As a UK student, I have found it difficult to become involved with the international community. I wanted to go to the cultural cafe in my first year but found that it was only open to international students. However, this exclusivity does not seem to bother many people. ‘I’ve never thought about it’ says Steve, a Languages student, when asked if he had ever tried to join an international society. UK students don’t generally try to join international societies because they assume that such groups are not for them.
Perhaps more effort could be made to involve UK students in international societies’ and university events. Still, it is clearly also very important to run events especially aimed at helping international students, as they will naturally need more guidance than the average UK student.