Student Voices: Methods

Design and respondents

The survey was designed to determine how international students perceive and describe the challenges they face during their first semester at the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota. They were not asked what went well or what made their transition go smoothly. An initial draft of the survey instrument was piloted on non-native English-speaking students and staff members who provided feedback on content and clarity. The final survey (see Appendix A) was administered online to all international undergraduate students registered spring semester 2010. Of the 1,696 who received the email invitation to take the survey, 232 completed it.

Though the survey sample was somewhat limited, the respondents represented a variety of voices from across colleges, genders, and nationalities at the University.

Table 2. Respondent Demographics


Science and Engineering – 34%
Liberal Arts – 28%
Management – 11%
Biological Sciences – 4%
Continuing Education – 4%
Design – 2%
Education & Human Development – 2%
Food, Agriculture, and Natural Sciences – 2%
Medical School – < 1%
Chose not to answer – 14%

How long have you studied
in the U.S.?

0-12 months – 34%
13-24 months – 19%
25-36 months – 15%
More than 3 years – 18%
Chose not to answer – 14%

I first came to the University
of Minnesota as a:

Freshman – 47%
Transfer student – 28%
Exchange student – 9%
English Language Program Student – 2%
Chose not to answer – 14%

What country are you from? (optional)

Chose not to answer – 43%
People’s Republic of China – 17%
Malaysia – 6%
India, South Korea – 4% each
< 4% each from countries in

  • Africa
  • Europe
  • the Middle East
  • South America
  • and the rest of Asia

Survey instrument

The survey consisted of twelve questions: one multiple option, eight multiple choice, and three open-ended. The multiple option/choice questions were designed to collect quantitative data about the role of English ability and academic differences in international student adjustment. The open-ended questions and comment boxes were included to capture in the students’ own words the nuances and uniqueness of the challenges they faced, as well as to document those we hadn’t yet asked about.

The survey was divided into four broad sections:

1. Your English Ability

  • Which of the following made learning difficult in your first semester due to your English? Please check all that apply even if was true only in one class. (Multiple option – 15 choices)
  • What other things made learning difficult? (Open-ended)

2. Comparing the University of Minnesota to Your Previous School (Multiple choice – all followed by open-ended comment boxes)

  • Attendance policy
  • Expectations for participating in class
  • Amount of homework
  • Types of assignments
  • Number of tests
  • Types of tests

3. Interacting with University of Minnesota Professors (Multiple choice – all followed by open-ended comment boxes)

  • During your first semester, if you had questions about the material or assignments, from whom did you generally prefer to get help?
  • During your first semester, if you had questions during class, when did you generally preferred to ask about them?

4. Your Suggestions (Open-ended)

  • What are the major problems you see for international students who are adjusting to being at the University of Minnesota?
  • What would help international students adjust more easily during their first year?

Data collection and analyses

The quantitative data were tabulated by the UM Survey tool in aggregate form. For the qualitative portion of the data, our initial analyses employed “open coding” (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) which uses the participants’ actual words or ideas to allow the themes to emerge inductively (Patton, 2002). The first round of coding included a professional evaluator whose expertise is outside the domain of international student education and services. In subsequent rounds of coding, themes were refined and then ranked according to frequency.

Report Content

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


Beth Isensee
Director of Student Engagement, International Student and Scholar Services