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
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.