There is no denying that St Andrews has a diverse student population. According to the University’s website, about 30 per cent of us come from more than 120 different nationalities. Some of these 30 per cent are possibly third culture kids who moved around or grew up in an environment similar to St Andrews, but a large chunk of the student population grew up in a different culture or lifestyle than that of St Andrews, and has managed to assimilate into this town.
I spent some time chatting to these international students on how they maintain their cultural identities while leading new lifestyles in St Andrews.
St Andrews is a home away from home, but, there are things that are considered the norm back home that are simply not present. For instance, the lack of cows, rickshaws, and power cuts reminds me that I am leading an entirely different lifestyle and makes me miss a piece of my past that I did not expect. Anna Rouviere shares the same sentiment: “Before I came to St Andrews, I didn’t think that I would miss my culture because it didn’t seem like a big thing when I was living in France all the time but it turns out I do,” she said. “When I’m here, I feel like I need to have a little bit of home with me.” In order to have a piece of home with her, Anna watches a popular French news programme. Not only does it allow her to keep up with her country’s current events, but it reminds her of the memories of watching the same show with her family back home.
Saloni Mishra from India finds herself bringing a bit of home back to St Andrews by making sure her suitcase is always packed with Indian food. “My Indian friends and I have frequent Indian cooking nights,” she said. “Impromptu karaoke sessions happen pretty much on a daily basis. I guess we tend to miss the extreme cheesiness of Bollywood songs and movies.” Even though they may not be able to bring all the aspects from their cultures to St Andrews, their little pieces of home bring comfort.
Growing up being constantly told to behave a certain way, then entering a new culture where the behaviour may not be as valued as highly may require some international students to take some time to adjust.
Interestingly, instead of completely changing their behaviour, Riku Yagi and Masataka Ito, both Japanese students, have maintained some parts of traditional Japanese values.
“Constantly being aware and taking care of the surroundings is a key part of Japanese culture that I respect and act upon here in St Andrews. For instance, I always wipe the machines that I use in the gym so that the people using afterwards don’t feel uncomfortable,” explained Riku.
“I would bow, for example, if a car waits for me to cross a road,” shared Masataka. “I try not to forget to bow to people because I feel like bowing to someone is something that keeps reminding me of my Japanese identity.” It is admirable that even though they adopt a new culture, they still maintain their identities by keeping the positive values from their home.
The national societies present in St Andrews show that people enjoy being surrounded by others from the same country because they most likely share similar backgrounds and values.
Saloni enjoys spending time with her Indian friends because they understand her “references to Indian movies and more importantly, Indian memes.” Anna also shares that chatting with other French students is often a relief, as she barely has the opportunity to speak her language in St Andrews.
Although it is fun to get to know other people that come from similar backgrounds, it is still important to branch out and get to know people from other nationalities and cultures. “People tend to keep in touch with their identity, but we should also take advantage of being in a diverse community,” noted Riku.
“Unfortunately, some people form groups with people who are from the same country or speak the same language. As a result, they lose chances to meet other people,” added Masataka.
International students maintain their cultures in St Andrews, but it is important to realise that their time in this town also influences them when they go home. Saloni believes that her perspective of her own culture has changed since living in a different environment.
“Living in a different country has made me appreciate my culture more and it’s made me realise how rich and diverse it is in itself. When I went back to India this summer, I saw it in a completely different light as the things I overlooked before…fascinate me now,” she said. We may be used to our everyday lives in St Andrews right now, but we must realise that, one day, we will probably miss the culture that we have created here.
-Jurin K. Flores