Studying abroad, which has become a common phenomenon, can be a fun and meaningful experience. Many university students are interested in studying abroad because it gives them an opportunity to explore different cultures and broaden their horizons. As Mark Sherry, Peter Thomas and Wing Hong Chui argue in ‘International Students: a Vulnerable Student Population,’ the goals that students pursue international study are often to acquire different ways of learning and to improve cross-cultural understanding, which helps them gain self-confidence as well as maturity (33). This experience turns out to be beneficial to those who study abroad. Nevertheless, when students are surrounded by a wholly new environment, many problems that hinder their passion inevitably emerge in this process, which makes them a vulnerable group. To resolve these problems, international students should first change their habits and pay attention to self-regulation; at the same time, local community is supposed to offer them proper and considerate accommodation.
Very often international students cannot adapt to the new cultural environment well and confront a number of difficulties, including problems with ‘language, cultural issues, social exclusion, finance, homesickness, and other issues’ (Sherry, Thomas and Chui 34). These problems are further classified by David Lackland Sam into four main types in an article called ‘Satisfaction with Life among International Student and American Student Engagement in Effective Education.’ Sam states these problems as ‘culture shock,’ ‘the ambassador role,’ ‘adolescent emancipation,’ and ‘academic stresses,’ which are related to language proficiency, academic situation as well as social intercourse (318). Sam specifically refers to the problem of language disability as a huge barrier on students’ way to adaptation and academic success. Likewise, in an article called ‘Welcome to America? International Student Perceptions of Discrimination,’ written by Jenny J. Lee and Charles Rice, some more problems related with community accommodation that international students encounter are noticed. These difficulties range from perceptions of ‘unfairness and inhospitality’ to ‘cultural intolerance and confrontation’ (Lee and Rice 381). Compared to native students, the authors claim, international students are more eager to be accepted and to succeed. Again, this shared desire is sometimes hindered by their language ability which is something that faculty criticize them for. Some staffs that work with the international students, as Lee and Rice observe, do not care about their emotional dilemmas, such as ‘homesickness’ and ‘alienation’ (387). Hardly paying any attention to the cultural difficulties of international students, faculty members sometimes misunderstand their silence as lack of interest or incompetency (Lee and Rice 387).
Serving as ‘cultural carriers and resources’ and ‘links between cultures,’ international students are beneficial to the local community, not only in reducing cultural prejudice, stereotypes and misunderstanding, but also help increase population diversity and cross-cultural co-operation (Lee and Rice 381). However, despite of the important roles that international students play, this vulnerable group is often caught in a cultural dilemma. Fortunately some of these problems can be easily resolved with the efforts of students themselves as well as the help of the local communities.
To begin with, self-regulation is a fundamental way that international students adapt to a new environment, yet it is of vital significance. As is mentioned before, language proficiency is obviously a huge obstacle. However, international students tend to stay with people from the same culture. Though it provides them with a sense of community, in this way their language ability is impossible to improve because they are still in that first language environment (Sherry, Thomas and Chui 34). To overcome this barrier, students should sometimes leave their small group and learn to initiate conversations with native students, by which they will have more chances to practice the new language. For example, they may start with making friends with local students and hang out with them more often. Or they can simply apply for a conversation partner on the school website who will help enhance their language fluency in an effective way.
In addition, adjusting themselves to academic customs is also a good way of adaptation. By figuring out the process of a lecture and observing the interaction between educators and students, those who study abroad should learn to participate into the class discussion and share their own opinions on the same issue. As time passes, they will find themselves popular among the students, and their language proficiency and academic grades will be highly improved due to their participation in class.
What’s more, international students are supposed to adapt to local foods and customs. Though it is not difficult for some students to accept and get used to the new eating habits, for others who cannot grow accustomed to the local food, they had better learn to cook for themselves. As to local customs, international students have to inevitably accept some different cultures and values in order to fit into this society. This is not asking them to give up their traditional values, but to treat other cultures with a lenient attitude. By accepting or adapting to the local customs, they will also gain a better understanding of this culture.
Last but not least, students should pay more attention to the psychological adjustment. For many, studying abroad is not merely a fun and interesting experience, but a way to pursue higher achievements. This experience helps shape their qualities and strengthen their skills, preparing them for a better future. However, studying abroad costs way more than usual. Being far away from home, students are more likely to be depressed by the reality. As a result, some international students undergo great pressure of family burden, homesickness and an intense desire towards success. To ease this psychological stress, they should change their attitudes to life and try to focus on the present. The pressure is not supposed to resist their efforts towards adaptation, but it should be converted into a motivation in their adaptive process. Live and learn with a positive and more relaxed attitude, they will present a better self.
Though self-regulation is undoubtedly an effective way for international students to adapt to the new environment, the help of local community can even make the process more easy and successful. First of all, as Zhao, Kuh and Carini suggest in an article called ‘A Comparison of International Student and American Student Engagement in Effective Educational Practices,’ trained faculty members, including professors and administrators that deal with international student affairs, should make use of the findings of relevant research to gain a better understanding of the need of these students. This is especially true, as in another article called ‘The international Student Experience: Three Styles of Adaptation,’ the same solution is suggested by the authors. It is claimed that effective strategies should be particularly ‘tailored’ to the needs of massive numbers of the ‘unconnected’ and ‘stressed’ students (Russell, Rosenthal and Thomson 248). Thus faculty members should cater to the special needs of the international students and offer proper suggestions to them. For instance, professors should be patient enough to answer some extremely simple questions raised by the international students since they are not familiar with the culture and language, and they sometimes cannot catch the right information from the lecture. With the advice and assistance of these faculty members, international students are more likely to make a successful transition to the local community (Zhao, Kuh and Carini 226).
Moreover, institutions that host a vast number of international students should attach importance to the role they play and invest certain amounts of time and efforts to help the students attain their goals more effectively (Zhao, Kuh and Carini 226). Writing Center, for example, is a good place for international students to enhance their language and writing abilities. As is revealed in an online survey sent to a group of international students from different countries, the majority of the students give incredibly positive comments about the Writing Center, which proves its significant assistance with the writing skills of these students (Sherry, Thomas and Chui 37). Therefore, Writing Center should continue its function as a language tutor, and even develop some service for specifically the international students, such as offering writing labs about the correct forms of wording, organizing and how to avoid grammar mistakes.
Relating back to the essay written by Sherry, Thomas and Chui, the authors address a list of needs of international students, inclusive of enhancing their cross-cultural understanding and receiving more opportunities to get involved in the local society (Sherry, Thomas and Chui 44). To raise the profile of international students, universities could hold an ‘International Students Week’ on campus where foreign students can display the most fun and amazing part of their own culture. In addition, some important cultural or religious holidays of different nations could be recognized on the university website to make these students feel more accepted (Sherry, Thomas and Chui 44).
With globalization, the number of international students among all countries is increasing, making it urgent to solve the problems that they encounter. In general, studying abroad is a meaningful experience worth trying. However, students should be well prepared for the challenges and difficulties that they may meet with before they leave. While they are in a foreign environment, they must find ways to enhance their language proficiency and adjust themselves to the new habits and different customs. At the same time, local community, including faculty members and institutions, should provide them with thoughtful accommodation. Only in this way can the international students successfully adapt to the new culture and benefit the local community in return.
Sherry, Mark, Peter Thomas and Wing Hong Chui. ‘International students: a vulnerable student population.’ Higher Education 60.1 (2010): 33-46. Web. 21 March. 2014.
Lee, Jenny J. and Charles Rice. ‘Welcome to America? International Student Perceptions of Discrimination.’ Higher Education 53. 3 (2007): 381-409. Web. 21 March. 2014.
Sam, David Lackland. ‘Satisfaction with Life among International Students: An Exploratory Study.’ Social Indicators Research 53.3 (2001): 315-337. Web. 21 March. 2014.
Zhao, Chun-Mei, George D. Kuh and Robert M. Carini. ‘A Comparison of International Student and American Student Engagement in Effective Educational Practices.’ The Journal of Higher Education 76. 2 (2005): 209-231. Web. 21 March. 2014.
Russell, Jean, Doreen Rosenthal and Garry Thomson. ‘The international Student Experience: Three Styles of Adaptation.’ Higher Education 60.2 (2010): 235-249. Web. 25 April. 2014.