We are one body in Christ. There is “neither Jew nor Gentile” (Gal 3:28), neither local nor international.
Yet, some international students experienced a sense of divide between local and international groups.
Do we, as a community, reflect and bear witness to our Lord and Saviour in this regard?
iSurvey investigated: (1) attendance at Christian events, (2) how welcome we feel at events, and (3) our social circles.
182 people 72.5% of whom identified as local and 23.5% as international – responded. Some results highlight a clear disparity between the two groups.
84.2% of locals versus 50% of internationals attend OICCU events.
85% of locals versus 48% of internationals feel welcome at OICCU events outside of college.
36% of locals’ social circles are almost entirely British, and about 40% of both locals and internationals have social circles largely from their own group.
36% of locals never had a conversation about their faith with a non-Christian international student; neither did 30% of internationals with a non-Christian local student.
Written responses showcase a gap in the awareness of the disparity.
To move forward from this, we want to pursue intercultural friendships, following Jesus’s example and commands (e.g. John 13:34).
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A Commentary on the results
I remember feeling like an outsider when I first came to Oxford. As a Singaporean, and ethnically Chinese, I was always in the majority ethnicity back home, so coming to the UK meant becoming a minority for the first time in my life. I had difficulty remembering the names and faces of people I had met, because so many of these new acquaintances were foreign to me. Even more than that, there were the cultural references – those were hard. All it took was the mention of a British show, song, food, slang word or obscure city and I would be completely lost in that conservation. It was like being stuck in a conversation about a subject I had never studied, or worse, in a language I simply didn’t understand. Even greetings were a problem. I remember being utterly confused when people greeted me with a cheerful “Hey, you alright?”, because in Singapore when someone asked if you were alright, it means you look rather unwell. I spent the first few weeks in this foreign land wondering if I looked ill all the time. When a kind soul finally explained one day that “Hey, you alright?” was a common greeting here and was certainly not a comment related to my well-being, I was so relieved and excited that I started greeting absolutely anyone I could with a cheerful “Hey, you alright?”, nearly falling off my bike on a few occasions while trying to shout “Hey, you alright?” to friends on the street!
Towards the end of that first year, I managed to feel almost at home. However, I still found it a challenge to attend Christian Union events. I attended one or two events at the start of the year, but felt exhausted dealing with the cultural differences, and so attended events only sporadically. It was not until much later that things started to get better. A few Christian friends asked if I would head to the pub with them after Focus (a bible study at St Ebbe’s Church) – something I found truly scary because I had never been to a pub back home, and I was brought up to believe that pubs and bars were dangerous places filled with heavily inebriated people. I was shocked at the idea that Christians would go to the pub! However, because of their persistence, I went. I guessed that this was probably just another cultural thing that I didn’t quite understand at that stage, and I was right. It was a much milder atmosphere than I was led to believe, and the one to one conversations I had with several Christian brothers and sisters came freely and easily. It was at those pub trips that I started to get to know several Christian brethren well, and started to feel at home at more intimidating CU events like Central. These were my brothers and sisters, and it started to feel like it. Soon, when I started going to Centrals, I began to recognise people with whom I already had meaningful conversations. It was such a remarkable feeling; it felt as if a veil had been lifted! And things have only gotten better since then. I praise God often for the deep, meaningful friendships with people of varying nationalities that he has given me. They have been an integral part of my time and my spiritual life here.
It was these experiences, a journey from being an outsider to feeling at home, that led to the idea for the survey.
But what business does a music student have conducting a survey, you ask? That’s a question I asked myself over and over again through the whole process of drafting and carrying out this survey. I understand it seems incongruous (especially if you know me!);I have always had little interest in statistics, and rarely think to myself that a survey would be an effective solution to a given problem. But I found myself in a coffee shop one day pitching the iSurvey to our unsuspecting International Secretary, Shinae.
You see, a survey and its results can only be truly powerful if it investigates a question that matters: a question with high stakes. That is why a survey researching a trivial question (such as the most popular kebab van in Oxford, or who wears the best jumpers in OICCU), though interesting, is ultimately exactly that: trivial. It is insignificant compared to a question that involves our very core and identity as a Christian Union: whether we, as a community, reflect and bear witness to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That is why I ended up in that café that day – I had several high-stakes questions burning at the back of my mind: is it true that the international and local Christian communities in Oxford remain quite separate and disparate communities? If Jesus died that we might be reconciled to him and to each other, if we are indeed one body in Christ, if in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Gentile” (Gal 3:28), neither local or international, why then did I sense this divide between the two communities? Was my rather difficult experience integrating into the local Christian community an anomaly, or is it representative of most international Christians? I figured that, if we could actually ask these questions in the form of a survey, we could work out what people actually think and feel. The data could lend support to our hypotheses, or refute them. Both outcomes would be helpful.
As such, after surveying 182 respondents (our target audience was all student Christians in Oxford including many outside of the OICCU community) (76.5% of these respondents identified as local, and 23.5% as international), the results have delivered a message. We looked at three parameters to determine if the local and international communities are indeed quite separate, or are well integrated: (1) Attendance, (2) Opinion, and (3) Social Circles. We hypothesized that if the communities are well integrated, they would show similar rates of attendance at CU events, feel equally welcome at these events, and have similarly integrated social circles. If the converse were true, there would be drastic differences in one or more of these areas, and trends would emerge.
Feel free to refer to the attached pdf file for more detailed statistics, but I wanted to just focus on a few that I felt were particularly enlightening:
Firstly, we asked locals and internationals if they attended OICCU events, and church-based bible study. Comparing those rates yields interesting results:
What we find is that while a large majority of locals attend OICCU events, only 50% of internationals do. The inverse phenomenon seems to be the case with bible study, perhaps because many internationals have found a Christian community within the church-based bible studies instead of in the CU. It is important to realize that this isn’t at all a bad thing in and of itself; in fact, it is a thing to be celebrated. It is wonderful that so many internationals have found Christian community in this foreign land, and are growing in the Word together with other like-minded people. However, would it not be even more powerful if both locals and international can partner together in the same gospel work to reach Oxford for Christ?
Furthermore, based on this legend:
here are the rates of attendance at Central meetings for locals and internationals:
An interesting trend emerges (a trend that was similar with other events such as Monday Morning Prayer) – internationals tend to be either quite committed or quite uncommitted to events, very few occupy middle ground, and a high number of them never attend any of these events. A very different picture compared to the more moderate attendance of locals. That’s certainly food for thought.
Secondly, we wanted to know if internationals feel as welcome at OICCU events as locals, and here are the results:
We see, once again, an interesting trend – both locals and internationals feel generally welcome at college CU events, but the number drops drastically for internationals when it comes to events outside of college such as Central. The reason for this, I believe, is that events like Central are far more intimidating simply because of the number of people present – the comments towards the end of the survey will help to drive this home, but suffice to say, it is far easier for anyone who feels intimidated to have a one to one conversation with someone they have not met before than for them to have the courage to approach a whole group of people already having a conversation. The sheer number of people present makes a difference.
(3) Social Circles
Thirdly, we wanted to get a sense of the social circles of our local and international friends: are cross-cultural friendships common? The statistics speak quite clearly for themselves here:
I believe this tells us a pretty consistent story: there is certainly much room for integration (36% of locals’ social circles are almost entirely British), and about 40% of both locals and internationals have social circles largely from their own group. This means that we miss out on cross-cultural gospel opportunities and cross-cultural Christian friendships, both incredibly precious in the eyes of God. Imagine how different and distinctive we would look as a community if the CU were far more diverse than the university at large? Imagine if we had many British people sharing the gospel with their Thai/Vietnamese/Portuguese course mates, or our Singaporean/Malaysian Christians meeting up often with their British brothers and sisters, encouraging them through fellowship and prayer?
I hope the statistics have already told a convincing story at this point, but there is more. Beyond the statistics, we also asked internationals and locals what they felt about these questions raised. We had a number of enlightening responses from internationals, including these:
“Not many British students will initiate a conversation with an international student or join a group of international students”
“[it] sometimes feels hard to get closer with local students as they have strong cliques/groups of friends. They are very friendly on an individual basis … but when stuck to their groups, it is definitely harder to feel involved in the conversation.”
“It’s hard to find commonalities to talk about, which is strange considering we share so many eternal things. … after not going for CU for a while, it becomes so much easier to just keep not going.”
“I feel underrepresented – I don’t see other international students taking part.”
And, in contrast, we had many responses like these ones from locals:
“[OICCU’s] doing a pretty good job in my opinion”
“There’s already a significant level of integration.”
These are indeed fair statements, but they are based on their experience with the international Christians who already regularly attend OICCU events. As we can see from the results, these are but a small minority of international Christians in Oxford.
So, taking in all of this data, is the perceived issue a real issue? I believe that it is – internationals do find it hard to be a part of the CU community, and many locals do not realize it. The question is, what now? What shall we do, moving forward?
In line with the command in Matthew 28:28 to “make disciples of all nations,” the exec and organizers of iSurvey decided that the best way forward is to encourage intercultural friendships. We cannot force friendships, but it can make a real difference to make an effort especially in settings where it can be particularly difficult for a first-timer. And we have a great example to follow: as a speaker mentioned at the last Central, Jesus was the greatest example of cross-cultural mission, leaving his heavenly home to come to earth in what must have felt like an incredibly stifling, limited body, to be a servant, and ultimately to die a cruel death. There is indeed no better example to follow than Jesus’ example. To say that Jesus “made the effort” is a cosmic understatement.
And it is so, so important that this effort is not a one-way effort, but a two-way effort. If locals try really hard to be welcoming and loving the way Jesus was, but internationals do not reciprocate by attending events and taking the first step, this endeavor will be unlikely to bear much fruit. I look forward to the day when the majority of internationals will readily block their Wednesday nights off for CU meetings because they know it is in line with God’s gospel mission here in Oxford.
Francis Schaeffer’s words have resonated so deeply with me throughout the last year:
"It is in the midst of a difference that we have our golden opportunity. When everything is going well and we are all standing around in a nice little circle, there is not much to be seen by the world. But when we come to the place where there is a real difference, and we exhibit uncompromised principles but at the same time observable love, then there is something that the world can see, something they can use to judge that these really are Christians, and that Jesus has indeed been sent by the Father."
This is our golden opportunity. This is our chance to show the world that as Christians, we are different. In Oxford, diversity can sometimes be taken lightly, and there are very real struggles and challenges for anyone who isn’t in a comfortable position racially or in terms of social status, but let that not be the case in the CU. There are real differences between locals and internationals, yes, but our job is not to quash these differences. Rather, we should celebrate them, and even more than that, celebrate the fact that we are one in Christ, that he has washed away our sins, that his salvation is equally powerful for locals as it is for internationals. Let us celebrate the fact that we are all children of God. God does not discriminate, and neither should we.
Let us learn to love one another in new ways: challenging ways that go beyond our current conceptions. And through it, may the name of Jesus be glorified, and many souls saved.
“A new command I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
- John 13:34
Written by John Lee, 3rd Year at Catz
Edited by Shinae Lee, 3rd Year at Univ