Imagine boarding a plane and flying twenty-seven hours to a country you’ve only read about. Imagine saying goodbye to all of your family and friends, unsure of when you’ll return. Imagine arriving at a campus where you can not read the signs, have no idea where you need to go, and are hungry, tired and ready to get back on the plane and go home. This is how many international students feel as they arrive in the United States to go to school. With so many international students attending school in the United States to continue their education, it is important for us to be able to positively work with this group.
The first step in working with international students is to realize how their needs may be different from the needs of American students. By identifying both immediate and long-term needs, we can better meet their needs.
Some of the immediate needs of international students include finding:
– a place to stay
– a way to contact home
These are the easiest needs to meet. Start by being friendly when you first meet the student (especially if you are the one who checks the student into his/her room). Show them where they can find food (either a restaurant, convenience store, or even a vending machine), and where the nearest payphone is. Be sure that you know where calling cards can be purchased, as this may be one of the only ways a student can contact home. After you answer any questions they may have, just let them go into their room, get settled, and get some rest. After they are rested, they will be more ready to hear the rules and regulations, fill out the necessary forms, and get started. Be sure to be available if the student has any questions.
Some of the long-term needs of international students include:
– experiencing the “American” culture
– a readjustment of social circles
– help when “the honeymoon is over”
The long-term needs are definitely more difficult to meet than the immediate needs. When it comes to experiencing “American” culture, one way to do this is through programming. During the holidays (especially those celebrated specifically in the U.S.), plan programs that will help students understand and experience what is typically done during that holiday. Some successful programs at our campus in this area include having pumpkin carving during October, taking a trip to see fireworks on the 4th of July, and Thanksgiving dinners during November. At this same time, give opportunities for international students to share what they do in their countries during specific holidays. Another way to meet this need is through daily interactions with your residents. Share all you can about different things you do (from shopping for groceries to things you do with your friends for fun). Ask the students to go with you on some of these activities and both of you will learn from the experience.
Leaving all friends and family behind can cause some stress to students, both American and international. Be there for your residents to support them as they make new friends and start their new social life. Offer to do things with your international residents, but also show them avenues to find other people with whom to socialize.
Helping international students when “the honeymoon is over” is also important. International students have high expectations of what school and life will be like. Unfortunately, sometimes those expectations are not realistic. When students see their room is not as big as expected, some people are not as friendly, their classes are not as easy, and as they start to encounter some of the same day-to-day problems as do other students, they may begin to feel disappointed, sad, and ready to go home. This is the time staff members need to show the resident that they care and help them through the little problems that make a big difference.
Working with international students can be an amazing experience. Remember to be patient and understanding when communicating with the students and be prepared to repeat and rephrase some of the things you say. Taking the extra time to work with this population will not only benefit the student, but you, too, will learn about a culture different from your own.
Submitted by Jason L. Dunlap, Resident Assistant, University of Rhode Island