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Preparing for Challenges International Students Face

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Julia Sachs
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International students bring new experiences, perspectives and cultures to higher education institutions - but they also bring responsibility.

On-campus, international students face challenges many other students don’t have to deal with. Language barriers, cultural differences, distance from friends and family, and differences in the education systems can all make it harder for international students to succeed on campus.

We have addressed some common challenges international students face on campus, and how they can be addressed head-on to make students feel more welcomed to campus life. 

Language Barriers

Language barriers can cause stress on international students as they may not be able to communicate with their peers and professors, or simply navigate through daily campus life.

Student forums can allow students to connect with other students going through the same challenges and can be an effective way for them to find solutions.

As an institution, invest in the expansion of resources in specific areas of campus life, such as clubs and information in different languages. Only encourage international students to enroll in your institution if you can accommodate them and help them overcome the language barriers they may experience.

Lack of Resources

Consider creating an international student center where international students can congregate, find resources and interact with other students facing the same challenges as them.

Resources that international students may need include visa and immigration resources, or services on campus to help them navigate any legal needs for their visa. Offer online resources such as language options in their native language for all of your web content—or hire counseling services that can speak these languages to make sure international students are able to understand everything they need to. While most students can navigate enough English on campus to get by, they should still have access to resources to help them with paperwork or online services that can be more challenging.

Social and Cultural Challenges

International students face unique challenges in having to adapt to social and cultural differences from what they’re used to. Research shows this can cause stress on international students who face logistical and social challenges, from getting housing to simply making friends in a new place, so campus resources should take this into consideration and plan ahead to help these students as they acclimate.

Potential discrimination

While college campuses are often considered some of the more accepting places for young people, they are not void of discrimination. Create a safe space for international students to report any discrimination that they may experience on campus, and send a clear message to your entire student body that discrimination will not be tolerated.

In our latest State of Student Recruitment Survey, 62% of prospective African students said they were concerned about racial discrimination when they were considering studying abroad.

Implement practices and procedures to embrace anti-racism and anti-discrimination on campus. Train staff and faculty on how to recognize discrimination on campus, and provide anti-racist training to both students and faculty alike. Encourage local communities and organizations to expand anti-racism efforts into your local community, not just within your student body.

Financial Stress

Many students face financial pressure in securing housing and living costs while attending school, and for international students that can be exacerbated by visa and language problems that can often limit their abilities to earn a living in a new country.

Scholarship programs specifically designed for international students can help ease financial stress as students settle into their new environment. Consider working with alumni groups and other organizations to offer scholarships specific to international students at your institution.

Mental Health

As international students navigate life in a new country, they’re often limited to the support they receive from friends and family back home either digitally or over the phone. Set up strong support systems to ensure mental health services are accessible to international students as they navigate around your campus. Work to create a support system by helping them get involved in clubs and organizations that can expose them to new friends.

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