Do all international students speak Asian?

International students flood the Melbourne University night market.

Their hair is as black as death. Their vision is magnified through thick rims of steel. Their odour is reminiscent of Union House’s secluded television corner. And they all speak bloody Asian.

Collectively, these clones are the bane of our prestigious university. They expect us to eat their delicious food, yet never make the effort to converse with us. They never miss a single lesson, yet refuse to contribute to our discussions on Western imperialism. They bury their heads in those miniscule dictionaries, yet never bother to teach us their own language. We’ve been nice enough to accommodate them, yet they never praise our hospitality.

What an outrage. We grew here; they flew here.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m being ironic. Satirical. Hyperbolic. Sardonic. So before you fervently jump on my “I-Love-Pauline-Hanson” bandwagon, you’ll have to excuse me as I flee the driver’s seat. Because I’m actually quite a fan of our cross-cultural neighbours.

After all, I’m here to stand up for the short guy. And they don’t get much shorter than our Oriental friends.

In addition to being the true MasterChefs of Melbourne, our Eastern comrades bring a much-needed balance to this nation’s intimidating blokey culture. They put the “able” in “sustainable future”, the “fun” in “functional economy”, the “labour” in “minimum wage labour”, and the “MSG” in my “No. 45, Mee Goreng Special”. Without their influence, this country would be in dire straits, and this uni wouldn’t be rich enough to fund all those invaluable research projects.

It’s easy to forget that international students are effectively paying for our tuition. For all of us blue passport holders, we don’t have to worry aboutHECSHELP fees in the foreseeable future. Arts and Music students in particular will share with you their plans to remain unemployed and avoid the future trials of repayment. For our international classmates, though, there are no crafty loopholes. They don’t even get concession benefits. On the contrary, their constant stream of hefty bills never stops. No wonder the price of Chinese food keeps inflating.

In spite of my wholehearted appreciation for their indirect generosity, I think it’s fair to say there’s a little xenophobia in all of us. Of course I’d never say so in a mass-produced publication, but just between you and me, I must admit I’m a tiny bit racist.

Take lectures for example. Upon scanning the seats, our attention is only ever directed towards that cute girl in the fifth row, or the sensitive new age guy, doodling down the back. The thought of sitting next to the Vietnamese loner in the third row never crosses our mind. After years of Australian micro-evolution, our narrow, blue eyes have been trained to organise stimuli; the camouflaged international crowd is not even a blip on our nationalistic radar.

Class assignments are no different. Last year, when I approached my first group assignment, a friend warned me not to work alongside any “F.O.B.s”. I received his gratuitous racism with shock, but he couldn’t work out what all the fuss was about. He sat down on his slouched Ethiopian slave and went back to throwing knives at a map of the Middle East.

Admittedly, though, I could see his point. Despite my Singaporean heritage, I often find it difficult to differentiate one Asiatic from the next. Sharing grades with one of them is hence an illogical next step.

Long story short, a marriage of convenience landed me with two South East Asians, which shocked my friend into a coma. My decision to bite the proverbial bullet, however, was one I would soon regret. My new comrades’ English capabilities and cognitive aptitudes were only mildly spectacular. We ended up with a disappointing H1.

The prejudice we have against our Australasian allies is underscored by our fascination with “Asian parents”, the commandants that interrogate their children about the missing 0.05. As fun as it is to laugh at these caricatures, it’s easy to forget that the victims of this wrath are sharing our Parkville lawns. Some of them are here to be doctors. Others are here to be lawyers. And the other 80% do Commerce. Yet these ambitions do not necessarily stem from the individual; many are vicariously fulfilling the dreams of their elders.

It should not surprise us then to discover that some of them don’t enjoy their time abroad. Australia is not a holiday destination, but a mission ground for studying, surviving, and not failing. I obviously can’t speak for them all, but as a (half-)Asian myself I know that people from all cultures seek companionship.

From the outset, a multicultural friendship may not come with the same benefits as a local bonding. Sure, we may score ourselves a couple months of free board and lodging in Malaysia, be invited to weekly Yum Cha banquets, and be pampered with “Year of the Rabbit” gifts. But what’s a friendship worth if they use Renren instead of Facebook? What’s a friendship worth if it can only last thirty-six months?

Melbourne, as a city and a university, prides itself on its multiculturalism. And now it’s up to us young folks to ensure that reputation has any substance. Sure, we may be daunted by their indecipherable accents and their intimidating frames. But let’s not forget that our international friends can only speak Asian as well as you and I.

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