Colleges Face Challenges in Helping Foreign Students Adjust to Life in U.S.


As more and more students add an international component to their education, it is critical to understand how to engage and support students during a time when they are susceptible to culture shock, isolation and academic stress. As the article below indicates, many colleges fall short of their goals in helping foreign students adapt to American culture. The coaching required to help international students with academic, financial and emotional issues can be extensive and challenging, as advisors discover that tactics that work for American college students often don’t work for their foreign counterparts.

Socially, international students often stick together because they can be uncomfortable trying to mesh with our culture. However, survey results taken from undergraduates at several private liberal arts colleges reveal that many international students would like to have more American friends. As perhaps the most important challenge for international students is forming relationships with individuals different from them, the support networks and mentoring programs mentioned in this article are crucial to student success.

Some internationals students arrive on campus with more complex and weighty issues than homesickness or culture shock. They may come from war-torn or politcally unstable countries, such as the Rwandan genocide of 1994, which traumatically affected students attending universities in this country who knew their family members were either in hiding or being killed. In those kinds of cases, colleges must ramp up their crisis intervention programs. This article’s primary charge is for colleges and universities to commit to training advisers, who often are the first person on campus that international students seek out when they need help.

This article also raises a critical issue in coaching: how do we help engage at-risk populations who often aren’t asking for help? This article provides several suggestions, from partnerships between foreign and domestic students to professional counseling to presemester courses on writing, culture, and acclimating to the United States. The importance of providing the right resources, practicing active listening skills and asking the right questions simply cannot be understated, especially when dealing with cultures different from our own.

Chronicle of Higher Education

American colleges pride themselves on welcoming students from around the world. But how effectively are they helping foreign students adapt to and thrive in an American setting?

That is a subject of increasing debate among educators, some of whom question the support systems their institutions have in place.

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