船 is Mandarin for boat. A little play on words for the shared joys, pitfalls, tips and tricks of working with students abroad, especially those from a different university, and often different country to you. My self-proclaimed expertise in this matter comes from a five week summer school at Beijing Foreign Studies University, where I worked with English, Australian and Chinese students, and it was a genuine privilege.
Firstly, as the title suggests, you are all in the same boat. Everybody wants to try and prove they’re the best (you won’t be), everyone wants to make friends, everybody is scared of everybody else, and nobody has any money. Huh, it’s almost like students all across the world are pretty much the same. From the first day you are all thrust into a seminar room, but take comfort that your peers share your anxieties. No matter how far from home you may be, you are never alone.
Secondly, know your limitations. You are not going to do your best work, whatever it be, on the very first day, or even the second (unless you are some sort of machine sent from the future to destroy us all). So settle in, get to know the people around you. If you’re there for a semester then you really, really need to get the others on side. A whole term is a long time, so try not to rub everyone up the wrong way from day one. Summer schoolers, likewise. In a summer school you are more dependent on one another for support as the academic structure of term time is not always there to hold you up. Your work will come to you, so gather yourself on the first few days.
Thirdly, understand you do not know everything about foreign culture just because you googled it before you came out. You don’t want to cause insult by pretending you know more than your peers do. It is better to be inquisitive, to politely ask questions, than to just assume, or worse still to live in ignorance.
Finally, make it an experience. You are all there for the same reason, and though that reason is to primarily further your education, that is not just what it is all about. Make friends through doing things together: go out, visit cultural sites, make memories other than those in a classroom. Chances are, your peers will want to too, they just don’t want to ask. Be the student that breaks the ice: it won’t take much.
Students of the world can come together and do wonderful things, and to accomplish those things you must see that whilst there will be many differences between you and your colleagues, the most important thing to remember is that you are all in it together. You are all in the same boat. You are all not lost yet.