There are many reasons why we are lucky to be here at the University of St Andrews. Not least because it is widely regarded as the third-best university in the UK, as well as the fact that it is a beautiful, charismatic and dynamic town. Most importantly, however, we are lucky because it is quite possibly the most international ‘Bubble’ in the entire world.
Indeed, it is almost impossible to compare this place to anywhere else. Who would have thought that a tiny parish on the east coast of Scotland would be home to the some of the finest minds from all corners of the globe? Yet in this small coastal town, some 120 nationalities are represented earning St Andrews a reputation for the most international university in Scotland.
To come here is truly a mind-opening experience. Many of us, prior to university, will have only ever met a few foreigners on holiday or read about those job-stealing, benefit-scrounging immigrants in The Sun (yes it is shocking how immigrants can somehow simultaneously steal jobs and claim benefits at the same time!) So to actually live and work with such talented people from different countries really does make one realise how ridiculous the narrative of the likes of Rupert Murdoch and UKIP politicians are.
Xenophobes are inherently ignorant, that is the truth of it. They have never had access to somewhere like St Andrews, they have never sought to find out what foreigners are really like. Instead they have chosen to indulge in the preachings of the mainstream media and lightweight politicians.
To be honest with you, I chose to write this article out of pure frustration. Frustration at the fact that we live in a world today where many of us Brits judge countries, not by their people, but by their politics.
This came to my attention just a few weeks ago, when Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin started going – for lack of a better word – berserk. From moving nuclear-capable missiles nearer to the Polish border, to more recently ordering all Russian officials to fly their relatives living abroad home. The growing tensions over the prospect of a global war stalled Syria talks with the US, and destroyed UK-Russia diplomatic relations (although the appointment Boris Johnson as Foreign Sec probably didn’t help either).
This is pretty scary stuff, and we have every right to be afraid of Putin and his regime, but we should not be fearful of the Russian people. I find that many people still view Russians as cold-hearted, nuclear-crazed spies who are intent on destroying the western world. Most British citizens wouldn’t like to be held accountable for all the policies of Theresa May, so why are Russians subjected to silly stereotypes?
If you’ve ever met a Russian, which is very likely if you are a student here, you will know that they are humble, welcoming and kind. They are people of culture, of traditions and values. So I ask myself, where is our adherence to multiculturalism, tolerance and inclusion, the very political principles said to uphold modern European states?
The most concerning part of this is that people are pinning negative connotations on Russian people, and are not separating out the politics of the Kremlin for scrutiny instead. This could have grave consequences for world peace.
Yet this kind of labelling is not isolated to Russians, in fact it is commonplace in our society today. Iranians are often thought of as political extremists or religious bigots, Syrians are branded militaristic rebels or terrorists and the Turks are somehow not to be trusted.
We must remember that these are fantastic countries, with very friendly people. Their citizens are humans, ordinary people just like us, abiding by the laws of the country they happened to be born into and getting on with their everyday lives.
Last October I was in Ireland for the international session of the European Youth Parliament. On the final day of debates, someone stood up and accused Turkish people of “assisting ISIS.” This ignorant statement need not have occurred if this delegate hadn’t viewed every Turk as an extension of the Turkish government. Quite rightly the Turkish delegation quickly, but respectfully, dismantled her point.
The consequence of such stereotyping can even include lives being lost. If countries such as the US, France, or the United Kingdom had been victim of the atrocities seen in the Middle East at the moment, I cannot help but wonder if more compassion would’ve been demonstrated by the international community.
Bizarrely, citizens of a non-democratic (or undemocratic) state in particular should not be held responsible for their government by any observer, yet they so often are. It is the sorry state of affairs in British society today that all logic, common sense and reasoning has gone totally out the window and public opinion is instead dictated by the wishes of journalists and politicians, instead of by our own experiences and intelligence.
It seems we have entered a post-truth era of bigotry and stereotyping. However, of students as an international town we have the opportunity to look past these stereotypes and embrace our fellow classmates, regardless of where they call home or what passport they hold. Change must start locally and we are in an excellent position to lead that charge.