Towards a world culture
International students can be considered both the cause and the product of the globalization that is under way.
The ideal path followed by them is to get basic university preparation in their own country and then a specialization at a foreign university. They often try to get scholarships. Once they arrive in the foreign country, they discover enormous differences from their countries of origin: language, food, climate, way of dressing, ways of behaving. The religion is different, and so is the way of living it. By making new friendships, their mentality is opened, they are enriched culturally and stimulated to be open to the host country too. Once their specialization is completed they go back home with a diploma and a greater store of cultural knowledge, thereby contributing to the technological, political and social development of their society of origin.
Injustices and Difficulties
This is the ideale way but statistics and testimonies show that the reality is quite different.
International students are part of the migratory flow from South to North, and many of them do not only want to get a specialization, but they are also searching for a better future. This flow, which is driven by the conditions in the poor countries, is later intensified by the attractive force exercised by the rich countries. In order to keep the level of their institutions high, universities and research centers try to select the best students.
This "head hunting" increases the well-known "brain drain". Only a few countries have succeeded in profiting from the diaspora of their specialists by creating networks for the exchange of knowledge or reversing the direction of the flow of the intelligentsia. Most of them, however, have been further impoverished to the benefit of the richer countries. This description is indicative of the current world situation and highlights a new injustice that is being created between the North and the South.
Not even the daily life of foreign students from poor countries is free from difficulties. The cultural shock is greater than they think. The host society appears hostile toward foreigners; administrative difficulties put obstacles along their way. Financial problems cast doubt on the renewal of residence permits. Living becomes hard, the language continues to be difficult, and their religious values are weakened. Even the prospects for the future are pessimistic: the development situation of their countries is not very promising for a future engagement on the level of the specialization they have obtained. These psychological tensions weaken students, make them lose self-confidence, and keep them from concentrating on their studies; some abandon their studies and often end up in illegal situations. There are, nevertheless, several organizations and persons who take care of international students.
The Church's Role
The Church is universal by vocation and tries to speak on behalf of the poor countries and support all the initiatives that promote justice in relations between countries. "It is everyone's duty-and especially Christians'-to work energetically to set up universal fraternity, the indispensable basis for an authentic justice and a condition for lasting peace" (Paul VI, OA 17). Especially in this jubilee year, the Church wants to be in the vanguard in building a just, fraternal world filled with peace and love. "In all the societies of the world the figure of the exile, the refugee, the deportee, the clandestine, the migrant and the 'street people' gives the Jubilee celebration a very concrete meaning, which for believers becomes a call to change their mentality and their life, in accordance with Christ's appeal: 'Repent, and believe in the Gospel'" (John Paul II, 2.2.1999).
In the different local churches, many try to fulfill the Lord's Word: "I was a stranger and you made me welcome" (Mt 25,35). In some very different and creative ways, the local churches have organized hospitality for foreign students and try to help them solve their immediate problems. Chaplains try to give the students formation in world citizenship. Through intercultural meetings and inter-religious dialogues, they create platforms on which international and local students can meet, discuss and get to know one another.
Chaplains have also taken note of the tendency toward globalization; in Europe they founded the Service of the European Churches for International Students in 1996. The Service aims at calling upon the European Union to take on its historical responsibilities toward poor countries and let itself be guided in international relations by justice and solidarity.
"The stakes in this process of hospitality and assistance to foreign students are very high: not only their human and professional maturity is involved, but also the credibility of the older Churches in the eyes of the young Churches of the developing countries" (John Paul II, 16.9.1996).