“If you’re from Africa, why are you white?”

Despite living most of my life in the country town of Wagga Wagga, to which I have the most ties with, I still consider myself a born and bread Queenslander. Although I have a German heritage, I am not German. I have never been to the country, I do not speak the language and I have no known familial ties to the country. I believe my identity is formed via how and where I am raised, as well as a combination of personal attributes developed along the way.

However, if I were to become an international exchange student, how would my identity be perceived and how would I adapt to this foreign environment? This question seems to be an increasing dilemma for those students taking the plunge into overseas study.

With the ability to “fashion a self”, international students can “choose who they become…(and) change themselves in the country of education”, as spoken by Simon Marginson in International education as self-formation. This means they are able to fashion a new identity, harmonising with the new country they are living in. Yet, this harmonisation can only occur if both parties have a willingness to accept and merge together to form a new identity.

It can be incredibly daunting to enter a new and unfamiliar situation, think of your first week at high school or your first day at a new job, then times it by 10000. Not only do international students, especially those from non-english speaking backgrounds, have to pick up on our ‘Aussie slang’, they also must quickly adapt to our culture, as if it were a ‘sink or swim’ environment.

According to Marginson, “Using strategy of hybridity the international student combines and synthesizes different cultural and relational elements, blending them together, into a newly formed self”. This is their way of adapting to our new environment, think of Cady, from the 2004 film, Mean Girls. She adapts to her new environment by conforming into the popular “plastics” group. Although, as mirrored in the film, this can cause drastic ramifications for finding her way back to her “place of origin”. And by that, I don’t mean Africa.

After adapting to this new formed identity, the international student, may find it difficult when returning home as not only have undergone changes, but their perception of the world may also have changed. This idea of ‘self- formation’ re-affirms Marginson’s conclusion that “we need to give them (international students) dignity, as persons with equal standing and rights as ourselves” this means, not doing a Karen, and asking someone “if you’re from Africa, why are you white?”

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