Tips for Facilitating a Good International Student Experience

Aug 11, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Acclimating to college life is hard enough for domestic students. Factor in the international student aspect, and the challenges grow. The good news? Millions of international students have amazing experiences every year, and -- if you’re studying abroad this fall -- there are some things you can do to make sure you’re one of them. Or perhaps you’re a domestic student who’d like to contribute to helping international students on your campus feel at ease? Don’t worry! We’ve got a few tips for you, too!

 

For International Students

Talk to anyone who’s studied abroad, and you’re likely to hear that doing so was one of the most amazing and transformative experiences of their lives. Ask them to think back to the first few days, however, and you’re likely to hear a different perspective. While you’re probably excited for what’s ahead, you may also be feeling nervous, anxious, homesick, and many other emotions. These three tips can help you push through the initial trepidation in order to start making the most of your international study experience.

● Attend orientation.

The first few days and weeks on a new campus in a new country can be overwhelming. One of the best ways to quickly get off on the right foot? Attend freshman orientation. Aimed at helping all students familiarize themselves with what they need to succeed in school, freshman orientation is the perfect opportunity to learn about school activities, get to know other students, and ask any questions. By getting these things out of the way before classes start, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running.

● Participate in class.

 While your first instinct may be to hide in the back of the classroom -- particularly if your language speaking skills need some work -- resist this temptation. Not only will participating in class help your grade in many classes, but joining in classroom discussions is also a great way to develop your understanding of the materials.

An added bonus? The more you speak up, the more comfortable you’ll be speaking up, and the more your language skills will improve.

So while it may sometimes feel otherwise, the truth is that you’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain by committing to be an active participant in class discussions.

● Get involved.

University campuses are full of amazing opportunities to engage with the world around you. Whether you join a club, sign up for an intramural sports team, or start volunteering, there are near-endless ways to start getting to know other like-minded students and members of your campus community.  Putting yourself out there can be hard, but remembering that all college students are in the same boat can help.

While the primary purpose of getting involved is to make campus connections, you’ll also walk away with some ancillary benefits, such as the chance to hone leadership, communication, and other skills -- all of which will look great on your resume.

 

For Domestic Students

International students can’t do it alone! They also need a little help from people just like you. After all -- remember the last time you were a stranger in a strange land? Even the smallest gestures go a long way. Wondering where to begin? Consider these three suggestions.

● Be a buddy or mentor.

Many colleges and universities offer international student mentoring programs, which match returning domestic students with new international students. This is the perfect chance to step outside of your own “bubble” to make a difference in the life of someone else. And, of course, it’s also a terrific chance to make a new friend -- someone with whom your path might not have otherwise crossed.

To find out more about opportunities to get involved, check in with your school’s International Student Office.

● Be receptive.

 It can take a lot for international students -- particularly those wary about their language skills -- to try to talk to other students. If someone attempts to talk to you, an enthusiastic, welcoming response may be just what they need to stop feeling isolated and start feeling comfortable.

Even better? If you see someone -- international student or otherwise -- looking isolated and alone, be the one to strike up the conversation.

● Assume responsibility

 It’s easy to get caught up in our own “stuff” during college. However, the more diverse a campus is, the more vibrant it is for its students.

 There are other benefits, too. Says the British Council, “On the individual level, international students contribute to the UK’s knowledge and culture, allowing all students to expand their personal perspectives and cultivate contacts for the future. In the classroom, the internationalism essential to higher education is more effective when student contributions from diverse backgrounds supplement the teaching. At the institutional level, perhaps the most consequential impact is that, without international students, select postgraduate courses may no longer be cost-effective to deliver. “ In other words, helping international students acclimate isn’t just a “nice” thing to do, it’s a win-win.

Perhaps the British Council put it best in declaring, “Integrating international students into the home community is fundamental to internationalising higher education. We must recognise that a commitment to one means a commitment to the other. The benefits of integration are undeniable, both in the short- and long-term, and -- as the vast majority of UK-domiciled students said -- it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure international students are welcomed and accepted.” The overall takeaway? Whoever you are and wherever you come from, the international student experience matters, and following these tips can help support best outcomes.

 

 

 

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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