Steps to Support International Student Success

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The Chronicle of Higher Education's article "The China Conundrum" draws attention to the challenges both institutions of higher education and students from China are facing -- including not only language barriers and obstacles to the recruiting and enrollment process but also differing cultural expectations around student/faculty roles, intellectual property and knowledge-sharing, and the nature of academic research. The secondary education system in China is not designed to prepare students for an American university, and most students receive little pre-arrival preparation for integration into the American college experience.

While these differing expectations are increasingly well-documented, there has been little treatment of the broader issue of acculturation. International students pursuing an undergraduate degree in the US not only are participating in a new and challengingly different classroom experience; they are also living and adapting to a new country and a challengingly different surrounding culture -- with limited support in learning how to navigate American culture, establish social and professional friendships, or draw upon local and campus resources effectively. A preliminary survey conducted earlier this year by three researchers -- Peter Mather, an Ohio University assistant professor of higher education and student affairs; Bethany Schweitzer, a recent Ohio University doctoral graduate; and Gunter Morson, head of higher education and careers at England's CATS College -- confirmed that while most international students feel welcomed and at home on their college campuses, many have a low sense of belonging in the US generally and face challenges in making the transition to American culture. These same students voice concern over the lack of support from the institution in making that transition.

One student remarked about the international student services available, "The office helped in all administrative matters, but nothing more. Please, do not get me wrong: they were very helpful, but they did not help in my transition from Mexican to American culture." Other students cited feelings of isolation and culture shock, as well as difficulties adjusting to the social expectations of the American classroom.

The survey results, though taken from a small sample, raise interesting questions. As more colleges and universities feeling the pressure of budget cuts make significant investments in recruiting and admitting international students, what steps can they take to ensure that their growing population of international students have the peer support and services needed to aid them in acculturation and academic success?

We interviewed John Leedock Jr., the immigration specialist and program coordinator for the International Programs Office at Benedictine University, to gather lessons learned from one institution that has made a strong commitment to educating international students.

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