Transitioning to college with 48,000 new faces can be intimidating for anyone. But, just imagine moving among a brand new culture that you are unfamiliar with, while feeling the pressure to achieve good grades, become involved, and make new friends.
“Imported From China,” a new documentary directed by Michigan State University Journalism Associate Professor Geri Zeldes portrays challenges that international students face on campus.
According to Zeldes, as enrollment of international students is on the rise, the dynamics of the student body on campus is going to change. For this reason, Zeldes said it is important that everyone understands the impact this will have on his or her everyday interaction.
The documentary began after a filmmaker approached MSU a couple of years ago and wanted to create a film that analyzed the relationships between international and domestic students in a Chinese setting. For Zeldes, this sparked an idea for a new creative project that would capture the interaction between these distinguished groups of students right here on campus.
Zeldes said that with her Filipino-American background, she could identify with the many issues that Chinese students face, such as pressure from their parents and communication barriers.
The documentary follows two Chinese students through their daily lives as they share their thoughts and feelings about different challenges they face. The main problem that these students continued to encounter was becoming accustomed to the American culture and establishing long-lasting friendships with domestic students.
“What we had in mind was to show how this abrupt change in the demographics of MSU is having an impact on so many layers—person-to-person, in group communications, and even in classroom discussions,” Zeldes said.
The documentary was debuted on Sept. 16 in the Communication Arts and Sciences building. It was followed by a question and answer session where many domestic and international students voiced their opinions on the issue itself, as well as their ideas to help break down cultural barriers that exist among students.
Journalism freshmen Kelly Cullen said watching this film was an incredibly eye-opening experience.
“It made me realize how hard it is for international students to reach out to American students because they often feel intimidated,” Cullen said. “I think that everyone could gain a lot from getting to know someone outside of their culture and it would be great if more opportunities were available for this to happen.”
Peter Briggs, director of the International Students and Scholars office at Michigan State, said he shared a similar sentiment as Cullen.
“We need to have some kind of facilitated outreach to structure the relationships and the connectedness for these students,” said Peter Briggs, director of the International Students and Scholars Office.
A large part of Briggs’ job is pointing these international students in the right direction so that they can create friendships and become involved.
“We really need to figure out how to internationalize the campus so that Americans are welcoming to these new students,” Briggs said. “I want to build empathy; that’s what I want to see.”
But Briggs said this new sense of community couldn’t be successful unless everyone is committed to accepting and embracing the diverse student population. In order to make progress, the community needs to continue having this kind of conversation and discussing ways to break down these walls that divide the two groups of students.
“If intercultural relationships were easy, we would have a lot more of them,” Briggs said.
But “Imported from China” has already created awareness, sparked conversation, and inspire students to go out of their comfort zones and try establishing friendships with people they normally wouldn’t associate themselves with.
Zeldes said the feedback has been tremendous.
Ever since the debut of the film, Zeldes said she has been busy answering inquiries from numerous professors on campus, as well as a dozen other universities who want a copy of the film to show their students. WILX TV also contacted her and is interested in showcasing parts of the film.
“We are trying to find the smartest way to get it out there,” Zeldes added.
As this film is further exposed and the message is spread to larger audiences, the transition to this new intercultural communication can begin, and relationships between international and domestic students will begin to thrive with effort and commitment on both ends.