A group of students is taking initiative to revamp the videos shown at international student orientation in an effort to make the videos more applicable to the students who attend.
The previous “Living in the United States” video series used to be mandatory for all international students and their families to watch at international student orientation.
“[The series] kind of made us feel like we were aliens just coming to Earth for the first time,” said Gabe Rocha, a junior from Brazil majoring in biomedical engineering.
After three years at USC, Rocha still remembered the video and decided to start a Change.org petition with his friends about removing the videos. On the petition site, the featured video begins with, “One of the things you might be thinking when you come to the U.S. is ‘how will I make “American Friends?’” The video begins first by explaining that Americans are very open to meeting new people. Then it goes through some non-verbal greetings that Americans use: the “handshake,” the “wave,” the “nod” and the “Fight On.”
The video also tells students, “If someone asks you how you are doing and keeps walking before you have a chance to answer, understand that it was only a greeting.”
Though USC often publicizes its large population of international students as a means of attracting prospective students, many students felt put off by the patronizing videos.
Tiffany Tse, a junior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention who is from Thailand, remarked that she and her friends wondered if Americans really thought international students were that “stupid.”
Over the summer, Undergraduate Student Government Vice President Rini Sampath noticed students were posting about Rocha’s petition on Facebook, and she decided to reach out to Rocha’s group.
After viewing the video, she deemed it offensive as well.
“It kind of just generalizes international students. It makes them all seem as if they have no idea of what American culture is like, whereas a significant portion of them are very fluent English speakers … They all got into USC for very good reasons,” Sampath said.
Last year’s International Student Assembly director had successfully petitioned to have the video removed from orientation. Current Executive Director Rachel Zou, however, said that the videos are still online and used as reference material, which is unfortunate because it reinforces stereotypes about international students that are already hard to shake.
“I think that some students just think that international students clump together, and stick more to each other. That’s true for all other communities here on campus,” she said. “Like you see other communities sticking to themselves more just because it’s more comfortable.”
Eventually the administration responded, and Rocha’s group, USG, Andy Su and Pablo Pozas Guerra of Diversity Affairs and ISA got involved in initial talks about the video. The group made the decision to revamp the video with new content that is more applicable to the USC experience. They’re currently trying to get the production aspects together.
“The goal is to create something that students connect to — the current video is very unreal,” Zou said. “It looks staged, it looks fake.”
ISA’s part will focus on research about what students want to see, and how that information should be presented. Zou said that some things that might be more helpful for an international student who just landed in Los Angeles for the first time would give advice about LAX and Los Angeles in general. ISA is also planning events that help to bridge the gap, such as “Around the World in 7 Days,” a series of events that will showcase different cultures.
“At times we don’t do the very best job of integrating those students into our community,” Sampath said. “So until we get to that point where we see international students actively mingling with our student body, it’s going to be hard to break down those stereotypes of the international student community.”
USG will be trying other activism and initiatives such as more discussions and increased marketing to the international community, as well as play a greater role in promoting events such as the annual Night Market hosted by Asian Pacific American Student Assembly.
“I think it is the personal responsibility of every student on this campus to make sure that all students feel comfortable, safe and respected,” Sampath said.