Denmark to Washington

It seems to me like there’s not much of a community at community colleges. I’m an international student, and I hadn’t been taking classes at BC for more than a week before I began to notice the lack of interaction in classrooms.

We all know how hard it can be to strike up a conversation with a stranger, and it seemed like many of my classmates simply didn’t find it worth the effort. In comparison, international students tend to be much more open to meeting new people.

That’s not to say none of the local students are interested in talking. I’ve had classmates who would always strike up a conversation while waiting for the teacher,  some would join in when others started talking, but were hesitant to initiate a conversation. So it’s not necessarily that people don’t want to talk, instead it seems to be that conversation just isn’t an expectation.

I discussed it with a friend who is also an international student. He agreed that many local students didn’t seem interested in talking and also mentioned that he’d had a hard time making friends from the area when he first came to the U.S.

I’ve heard the same from many other international students.

After a bit of discussion, we came to the conclusion that community colleges simply don’t have much of a community. Everyone is a commuter – we come to class, we leave. That doesn’t leave many opportunities for social interactions, but for local students that’s not necessarily a problem. Most have their high school friends nearby, possibly even at BC, so it’s no big deal if they don’t know their classmates.

When the majority feels and acts that way, it creates an atmosphere that can feel unwelcoming. I get why it happens, I really do. There’s no dorms, so there’s no easy way to meet people, and after all, we go to college to learn, not to chat. But it does mean that it can take a while to form the social network that will make a new student feel at home.

I thought it was mostly international students who experienced the “BC Freeze,” but then one of my American classmates also mentioned that he was frustrated that BC students seemed so closed off. Most of his friends were off to colleges in other states, so there wasn’t many left for him to hang out with.

That was interesting to hear because until then, I hadn’t been sure if the reason might just be cultural differences and language barriers. In a way, it makes sense that it might be a problem inherent to the structure of community colleges. When we’re only here to transfer anyway, and we don’t have much reason to stay on campus after classes, the opportunities for social interaction are limited. At a community college, making friends is not a priority in the way it might be at a four-year university, and it’s certainly not easy when many of us stay for classes and not much longer.

I’ve made some great friends at BC, but I’ve met people for whom it took as long as a year before they felt they were part of a social circle.

That’s a very long time when away from friends, family and your culture – or just stuck in the same place every day, as the case may be for local students. Even now, I still notice the silence before classes and the rush to leave afterwards.

At a school level, I think it might be a good idea to consider having more events for international students to help them get over that stage where the initial rush of excitement at being in a new country has worn off. But it’s obviously not only international students who would like to see a stronger community at BC.

I’d suggest being open to meeting new people, in and outside of class. Being nice goes a long way towards making a place more welcoming, and I think that’s  worth bearing in mind.