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Working with International Students
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Working with International Students: An Unexpected Journey

By: Megan Hullinger, Senior Enrollment Counselor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas & Abbey Wolfman, Assistant Dean/Director of New Student Programs at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Working with international students was a task neither of us intentionally sought to do in our current positions. However, due to the increasing numbers of new international students on our respected campuses we now work with them on a daily basis.

All new students, regardless if they are domestic or international, face similar transitional issues. Adjusting to a new environment, managing new and old relationships, and increased responsibility of personal freedom can be new experiences for all new students. However, the new undergraduate international student may experience additional adjustment issues.

Regardless of background knowledge of the United States, international students will face an adjustment period to the new culture. It is important for staff that works with international students to understand that adjustment to a new culture is a process for students. International students are adapting to the new culture that can be extremely different than their own in terms of values, food, and climate. Students must now navigate an environment that may have different expectations than their own countries. International students now must develop the skills necessary to navigate both socially and academically in their new environment. All of this change can be overwhelming and it’s important to let students know the support services in place to help them.

It’s also critical that domestic students understand the adaption process for international students. They play a role in a new international student’s success in adjusting to a new life in the United States. International students are very eager to develop relationships with domestic students. They hope to make friendships with someone who can explain the traditions, culture, and life in the United States. Cultural differences and language barriers can be added challenges in developing relationships with domestic and international students. Additionally, it is also advantageous to have current international student on your student staff to provide a well rounded experience.

The academic environment varies in each country. New international students may be unprepared for the academic rigor and expectations in and out of the classroom. International students are now being taught in a second language and asked to comprehend information for recall in papers, assignments, and tests. It is important for faculty to understand the additional challenges international students may face in the classroom. Faculty must be ready to recommend students receive help with reading, writing, and study skills. Writing and tutoring centers should be prepared to help students where English is not the first language.

International Student advising is a complex task; however, by arming your student leaders with basic immigration information, your team can provide a solid transition for International Students. Determining the level of knowledge would be best discussed with your Office of International Students and Scholars (or Designated School Official), as these professionals are often the ones who assist in training student leaders. Leaders with a basic understanding of the steps an international student must take to arrive in the United States, as well as knowledge of a point of contact for difficult immigration questions, will provide international students with less "run around” and confusion. The key, however, is to understand that many questions regarding immigration should not be answered by a student leader, but by an International Advisor or Designated School Official.

Although we didn’t seek the responsibility of working with new international students when we started our positions, we have learned a lot along the way. It is important for all professionals to understand the unique needs of this very diverse population.

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