Helping Chinese Students Transition for Academic Success

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Originally published when international enrollment was booming, the suggestions given below for helping Chinese students achieve academic success remain relevant.

A number of reports in the past months have highlighted rising numbers of students from China, and rising efforts by US institutions to recruit them. A recent article in USA Today profiled some of the challenges faced both by the universities and by the students transitioning into an American institution.

Mark Parker, assistant provost at University of Maryland University College, offers advice on helping Chinese students who are new to your institution navigate some of the intercultural challenges they may face.

First, Let Them Know What to Expect

"The most efficient and cost-effective thing that a university can do is to build on the model of the ESL program that institutions typically offer to international students. In addition to addressing the language barrier, add material to address specific cultural challenges."
Mark Parker, UMUC

While English proficiency might be the most obvious challenge, subtle cultural barriers may prove to be larger obstacles. For example, in a US classroom, it is expected and valued that students will challenge the professor, ask provocative questions, and participate actively in the learning experience. Students from other educational systems, however, may bring different expectations to the classroom. For instance, in a more collectivist culture like China, it may be expected that the student will reiterate the professor's words, and that learning occurs through a process of repetition and memorization.

Parker recommends designing programming to brief international students on:

  • Expectations for a student's role in classroom learning
  • Expectations around intellectual property and academic honesty
  • Other academic policies around degree completion, incompletes, etc.
  • Unpack all the jargon (credit hours, semester hours) and to the greatest extent possible "unclutter" the terminology for students who are new to the American system

"The earlier you start familiarizing these students with these expectations, the fewer issues will occur down the road," Parker remarks. This could mean beginning with a new student orientation designed specifically for students who were educated in other cultures and are studying at your college for the first time. It could mean creating an online student orientation.

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