Student Voices: Findings

  1. Challenges around learning in a second language
  2. Comparing the University of Minnesota to your previous school
  3. Interacting with University of Minnesota professors and staff
  4. What are the major problems you see for international students who are adjusting to being at the University?
  5. What would help international students adjust more easily during their first year?

What are the major problems you see for international students who are adjusting to being at the University?

Overview and Key Findings

The second open-ended question of the survey was “What are the major problems you see for international students who are adjusting to being at the University of Minnesota?” One hundred forty-two people responded to this question (61%). Four main themes emerged from the comments:

  • challenges of studying and participating in a second language
  • lack of shared academic and classroom culture
  • feelings of isolation and exclusion
  • general cultural differences

The first three themes mirrored the student responses to the first open-ended question, “What other things made learning difficult?”

4.1 Challenges of studying and participating in a second language

Respondents’ comments to this open-ended question provided further insight to the responses to the multiple option question about studying in a second language. Many students had difficulties or lacked confidence in expressing themselves in front of groups, which impacted their participation in discussions and asking for help. Others articulated a realization that being an active learner in their second language required some adjustment during the first semester.

One respondent explained:

Student quote

Some students, however, pointed to specific aspects of language that they found challenging. Reasons for not understanding their classmates, teaching assistants and professors included native speakers speaking very quickly, using slang, using culturally specific examples, or international students not understanding key academic vocabulary. As one student stated:

Student quote

Beyond their second language abilities, many students also cited a general lack of confidence in their English. One student with a relatively high English test score articulated this struggle:

Student quote

Some respondents also expressed that international students’ lack of confidence might be mistaken as a lack of ability or motivation. As one respondent commented:

Student quote

Another common theme of second language adjustment was difficulty in keeping up with the amount of reading and writing.

Student quote

4.2 Lack of shared academic and classroom culture

Other often-mentioned problems related to the students’ lack of shared academic and classroom culture with that of the University. Students had a hard time understanding the educational system in general, and also the expectations from the professors and staff. One respondent commented:

Student quote

Another stated:

Student quote

Respondents provided examples of how the U.S. educational system was unfamiliar in terms of class participation, presentations, group work, and how to engage in their college experience. As one respondent said:

Student quote

Student quote
Students also experienced differences in professors’ teaching styles, grading systems and in the frequency of assignments, tests, and quizzes. One respondent suggested that a communication gap with professors also exists:

Student quote

Beyond the system of education, a lack of familiarity with U.S. culture also impacted students’ understanding of course content. International students found themselves trying to understand all of the American cultural references used by instructors in class.

As one student stated:

Student quote

Theme 4.3: Feelings of isolation and exclusion

Twenty-three respondents commented specifically on a feeling of isolation from U.S. students. The main reason given for the isolation was a difference in cultural background or understanding. Respondents’ feelings are expressed in the following quotes:

Student quote

Student quote

Student quote

Student quote

While the previous comments suggest that the isolation comes from cultural misunderstandings and the discouragement that can result, one respondent also pointed out that a lack of meaningful opportunities to interact can exacerbate feelings of isolation:

Student quote

A result of the isolation between international students and U.S. students noted by many respondents is a preference for students to stay within their own cultural groups. They attributed this pattern to language differences, lack of cultural understanding, or students being ethnocentric. The following comment articulates this feeling.
When students are out of school, they go back dorm or apartments, but they still hang out with their country’s friends and speak their language. This means that they only use the language, English, at class but not in daily life.

Numerous respondents described the isolation between the groups as “not fitting in,” as illustrated in the following two responses:

Student quote
Students are scared of each other; to some americans we are scary strangers, and to most internationals they are scary americans who speak better English than we do.

Theme 4.4: General cultural differences

General cultural differences emerged as the fourth theme from the open-ended responses. This theme included comments regarding differences in values, negative perceptions of international students by domestic students and instructors, difficulty making connections at a large school, insufficient support, financial aid issues, climate, and housing.

Survey respondents recognized differences in values beyond the classroom environment. Statements of this nature included:

Student quote

Student quoteStudent quote

In addition to providing respondents with the opportunity to identify the challenges and problems international students face in their first semester at the University of Minnesota, we sought to gather respondents’ suggestions for how faculty, staff, and other students could support new international students’ acculturation and transition.

return to top

Report Content

  1. Abstract
  2. Background
  3. Methods
  4. Findings
  5. Discussion
  6. Recommendations
  7. Limitations and Directions for Future Research
  8. References

Contact

Beth Isensee
Director of Student Engagement, International Student and Scholar Services
612-626-7369
isen0021@umn.edu