Pooja, who didn’t want her real name used for fear of retaliation, said she realized early on that she would have to struggle to be accepted in a school in the United States where there were not many international students. When walking down the school hallways, she was constantly told to go back to her home country, India. She knew she had to transfer schools when one day she was thrown into the mud and told that she belonged there as the mud matched her skin color.
The United States had 82,000 international high school students by last count, according to a 2017 study by the Institute of International Education. Several recently interviewed in the Bay Area complained of racism, saying that it was easy for other students to isolate them and get away with it.
Sruthi Sudarsan, a former student of the Dougherty Valley High School in San Ramon says “International students are definitely a minority in number… I witnessed a lot of racist comments and remarks targeted particularly towards international students.” Although Dougherty Valley’s website says its student body is 81 percent minority, Sudarsan said there were few international students. She now attends Quarry Lane in Dublin, which has a majority international student population.
Alina Lin, an international student at the Quarry Lane School, says “There is a barrier between domestic and international students. I personally don’t have the courage to talk to other domestic students. I don’t know whether it is them not wanting to talk. I just go with the flow.”
Even though she says that racism does not exist in schools such as Quarry Lane where there are a larger number of international students, Lin says there remains a clear divide between students of different cultures and origins.
She believes that it is human nature to feel comfortable while connecting with people who share cultures and ideologies. She adds that since there is no pressure on students from teachers to interact with different cultures, students tend to remain in their comfort zones.
Richard Ong, a teacher at the Quarry Lane School says that “things are not as harmonious as we would like them to be” and acknowledged the divide between international and domestic students. Even though he has not come across acts of racism in his three years of teaching at Quarry Lane, he said he believes that children act in racist ways mainly because of the lack of knowledge of how certain words can have great impact.
“Education and actual action by the institution of programs to foster kindness can make a positive impact,” he says, adding, “Empathy is the key to most of these problems. When someone can put themselves in the shoes of another and see that we are more alike than not, one can understand what the other is going through.”
Since Pooja transferred to a school with a higher percentage of international students, she reports she no longer feels isolated or discriminated against and is quite happy.