Project #9: Student Voices: A Survey of International Undergraduate Students’ First-Year Challenges

By Mike Anderson, Beth Isensee, Kate Martin, LeeAnne Godfrey,
and Mary Katherine O’Brien
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Key Findings

Theme 1: Challenges of studying and participating in a second language

  • 40% indicated a lack of confidence using their English in class
  • 35% cited heavy reading load
  • 34% said too many examples used in class were drawn only from American culture
  • 29% were unclear about expectations for group work

Theme 2: Lack of shared academic/classroom culture

Students expressed difficulty understanding the educational system in general, as well as the expectations of and communication with professors and staff.

  • 40% said their previous school expected less in-class participation
  • 48% said their previous school required less homework
  • 41% said they were often unfamiliar with the types of assignments given here
  • 41% prefer to ask questions that arise in class immediately afterwards rather than during class or office hours

Theme 3: Feelings of isolation and exclusion

Students 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.

Theme 4: Recommendations from students regarding how the University could ease the transition for new international students

  • Creating structured opportunities for integration.
  • Being aware of the cultural background differences within the classroom setting.
  • Encourage international students to use campus resources.

What Findings Suggest For Our Campus:

Institutional Recommendations:

  • Solidify a strong common vision, goals and outcomes for the internationalization of the campus and curriculum. Creating an engaging climate not only for international students but for all members of the campus community.
  • Concrete steps can be taken by the University to create a climate in which faculty, staff, and students value the presence of international students, recognize their adjustment challenges, and are able to assist them in navigating cultural differences to improve and maximize their first-year experience on our campus.
  • Encourage mutual adaptation where learning is seen as a two-way exchange.
  • Build collaborations among students, colleges, departments, and student services to enhance curricular/co-curricular learning of all students.
  • Assess inclusion and engagement of international students in departments, programs, services, and opportunities.
  • Create an expectation and establish rewards for faculty and staff participation in opportunities to build their cultural self-awareness.
  • Integrate English as a second language support into the curriculum to help students be more successful in their classes and acknowledge the importance of doing so.

Curricular and co-curricular recommendations

  • Recognize the challenges of adjusting to learning in a second language.
  • Audit print and online materials aimed at first year students for slang, idioms, and examples that might impede key learning for new international students.
  • Imagine a course or programming from the perspective of a newcomer to this country to identify areas where expectations can be more explicit.
  • Communicate to students directly about faculty, staff, and student roles, as well as about student support resources available on campus.
  • Notice or assess the engagement of international students in courses and programs and work to improve it.