Rhodes University International Office has issued a strong statement against the xenophobic attacks that took place recently in some provinces in South Africa such as Johannesburg.
Director of International Office, Ms Orla Quinlan said she is concerned about the various ways in which xenophobia manifests itself and the impact on international students who start to feel less secure.
She said one of the issues discussed in the International Education Association South Africa (IEASA) Director's forum held at Rhodes University recently was xenophobia in higher education institutions. She said students' experience in South African varies across the public institutions.
“Some students experience xenophobia, which has led to some institutions holding anti-xenophobic campaigns and vigils over the years,” said Ms Quinlan.
“The responsibility to overcome xenophobia does not lie with the international students but with all sections of South African society and government institutions,” she said.
“Higher education institutions can start to educate and break down prejudices but xenophobia ultimately is a problem of a wide variety of individuals and institutions in any host country and the problem has to be addressed at many different levels.”
In a highly competitive global environment, South Africa remains an attractive destination for International students, seeking a quality higher education.
International students bring diverse experiences, cultures and perspectives to the academic work of Rhodes and other Higher Education institutions, which enhance the quality of academic debate and research.
At an economic level, international students pay for local services including local tourism and generally, boost the local economies in which they are staying.
“The fact that international students are willing to travel for their education is of mutual benefit to both the international students, who get an affordable, quality education, and to South Africa as the country benefits intellectually, economically and culturally,” said Ms Quinlan.
“International students moving to a place that is nothing like where they have come from can expect to experience culture shock, as everything will feel alien and different and they will not have the same support networks that they might have had where they came from.”
“These challenges will exist even when the receiving country is open and hospitable. However as students immerse themselves in a new culture, the "strange" soon becomes the "familiar" and getting to know another country and its multiple facets can become a most rewarding experience,” said Ms Quinlan.
“The forms of extreme xenophobia recently manifested in South Africa are prevalent in communities, where inequality and poverty continues to dehumanise and divide. Tensions are heightened when internationals are perceived to be doing well economically, while locals are doing less well economically,” added Ms Quinlan.
“It is clear that unless there is economic empowerment of the local population, incidents involving internationals can quickly escalate into violent outbursts of xenophobia. This problem has to be dealt with by both the government and South African society.”
The International Office at Rhodes University strives to provide spaces for international and South African students to increase their understanding of each other.
The International Office supports students, who have prolonged visa application issues as well, as well as providing orientation, individual advice and collaborating with the Dean of Students office to support international students in distress.
Photo by Sophie Smith