Six Big Challenges Facing International Students

Imagine traveling to a country where you know no one. You arrive on campus and don’t have any friends or know how to negotiate around the campus. You might not even speak the language well. This is the life of a new international student.

International students are different from study abroad students in the fact that they stay longer than a semester or school year. Most international students attend a university for the entire duration that it takes to complete a degree (typically four years for a bachelors). They might or might not be able to return to their families and home country for a visit during their time within the United States.

With so many overwhelming things that international students have to overcome, the best thing for International Student Advisors to do is to be aware of certain issues that could arise and to deal with other topics pro-actively.

An article published at USNews.com at the end of August, points out six things that every international student (or student from another region of the same country) will experience as they start their studies:

1. New assignments

I was discussing with one of our freshman international students recently about grading that occurs for tests. I shared the fact that the first test is usually the most nerve-wracking, as the student does not have much to compare it against. After taking the first test or receiving back a student’s first paper, students will have a better understanding of how professors grade assignments.

2. New professors

Some students are shy around new professors. In certain cultures, it is impolite to question a professor or improper to meet with them one-on-one. Encourage your international student to get to know their professors. This will help students to grasp a better understanding of the coursework but will also help students find people who could write recommendation letters when searching for internships.

3. Different subjects

At many American universities, students are required to take general education requirements – such as history, writing, and science for someone who is studying journalism or political science. Liberal arts institutions encourage students to dabble a little bit in fields that are outside a student’s main interest – so graduates are more “well-rounded” after their completion of their program. A student might also find a subject interesting and an academic outlet – such as a drawing class.

4. New friends

Some Americans (and other international students) are interested in meeting people from other countries and cultures. Others tend to focus mostly on sports and their pre-established friend circles rather than welcoming in a new person. It takes time to make new friends – so don’t feel discourage. The best way of making a new friend is by joining a club on your campus or start talking to a classmate. (One of my closest friendships started in college through talking with a girl in my sociology class fall of freshman year.)

5. Different foods

It is kind of hard to decipher what dishes are American. (Read this post for that story: https://williampennuniversitystudyabroad.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/the-challenge-of-describing-american-food/) However, most college dining services will always serve pizza, cereal, salad and french fries – with other main dishes rotating. Monday might be taco night with Tuesday lunch being a baked potato bar. Most international students tend to flock towards the french fries and pizza – as they may seem like “comfort foods” or just really good tasting foods! Just as people joke about the “freshman 15” though, there is a possibility of gaining the “international 15.” A lot of foods are unhealthy. Pizza for lunch once or twice a week is no big deal but when it is all you eat, you could become sick (with your body not used to the same ingredients) or you could gain weight – especially if you are not exercising regularly.

6. A different culture

Each country has its own culture. Within the United States, different regions have different cultural tendencies (check out the Challenge of Describing American Food post listed above). It will be easier for international students and the new “home” institution to realize that there will be some difficulties regarding different cultures. Whether it is something minor such as preferred ways of communication or differences regarding arriving on time versus arriving later, each culture has its own ways. A great way of understanding one’s new culture (where studying will take place) is to find a Culture Shock! book. Amazon has a great one about the United States available for $17.

To read more about these six challenges facing international students (to any country), check out the article at USNews.com here: http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2012/08/28/6-challenges-for-international-students-in-college?page=2

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