Working with an international population can be a rewarding experience for both faculty and students. Missouri State University created an excellent faculty resource for advising international students. We hope this will be a great resource for you here at Western New England University.
“Advise an international students just as you would American students except…”
International students encounter academic and personal difficulties while pursuing their studies just like domestic students. However, in addition to the traditional issues faced by domestic students, international students are often adjusting to additional circumstances:
- Adjusting to a new academic system
- Learning in another language
- Experiencing culture shock
- Experiencing life without their support systems (perhaps for the first time)
Tips for Successful Communication with International Students
International students come from a variety of cultural backgrounds that sometimes allow for cultural mishaps on both the part of the student and the advisor. The following examples illustrate this dynamic:
When a student hears someone tell them "No," they may try a different tactic:
- “No, means I should ask someone else.”
- “No, means I should ask again.”
- “No, means I should ask your supervisor.”
Different expectations of the advisor:
- “My advisor should help me negotiate my apartment lease.”
- “My advisor should help me maneuver the immigration system.”
Boston University’s International Students and Scholars Office developed Tips for Successful Communication with International Students on September 28, 2010. We found this to be a great source to help you here at Western New England University.
- LISTEN and DON'T INTERRUPT: Second language students often develop a “script” in their mind of what they want to say to you before they enter your office. Allow them to get through the script, so they feel certain that you have heard what they have to say. This can be difficult if the script is long and you can easily anticipate their question or issue.
- LIMIT: Limit the use of acronyms, abbreviations, jargon, colloquialisms, and idioms when speaking (or writing) to international students, even if English is their first language. Terms like “ASAP” or “on target” or “home run” or “all set” are U.S. culture-based and may have little meaning to an international student.
- POSSIBLE CULTURAL DIFFERENCE INDICATORS: Certain feelings and behaviors (both yours and/or the person with whom you are communicating) can be indicators that cultural differences are at play when interacting with someone from another country: frustration, taking offense, repetition, no response, inappropriate responses for the situation (i.e., nodding continuously when clearly the individual does not understand, awkward laughter, ending the conversation abruptly, seeming distracted, etc.). Allow these indicators to remind you to take a deep breath and find a different way to approach the issue or explanation.
- CHECK FOR UNDERSTANDING: After you have discussed an issue with a student or explained a procedure, ask for an explanation in his or her own words. Don’t just ask the student if he or she understood everything you said. This question may not confirm his or her level of understanding, since the culture of some international students dictates that saying they don’t understand shows that either you failed in your explanation or they have failed in understanding. “Do you understand what I told you?” will often be answered with a polite “Yes, thank you” as the student walks away without the vital information he or she needs.
- NAVIGATING BUREAUCRACY: This process is not the same in every country or culture, because strategies for getting a favorable response vary. Some approaches include working up to the most senior person in the office or organization, only accepting the answer of someone “in charge,” asking repeatedly until a favorable response is received, or only accepting the answer from a male staff member. Be clear in your message and be certain the student has understood what you said. Be patient because you may have to repeat yourself to emphasize that there are no exceptions to the policy/procedure/answer and that the answer will be the same no matter how many times the question is asked. Talk with your colleagues and supervisor about how you will deal with requests to talk to a “higher up.”
- HELP: You should assist international students as they work to understand U.S. customs and how “things are done here,” but do not pressure them to change their behavior or viewpoints unless the change is absolutely necessary for academic or social success or to avoid serious conflict.
- NAMES: Learn to say the names of international students correctly. Do not expect the student to select a U.S.-based nickname or shortened version of his or her name. This effort will go a long way toward making the student feel welcomed and respected.
- BE CURIOUS: Take the time to learn a little about your students’ countries of origin, customs, languages, and the larger issues of concern in their home countries (i.e., current events).
- DON’T GENERALIZE: Don’t assume that all students from a particular country or culture will behave or respond the same way. Likewise, do not expect a student to know what everyone in his or her country thinks about a particular topic. Like in the U.S., perspectives vary from region to region and group to group in any country.
Western New England University's international student and scholar population represents over 30 countries throughout the world and a discussion of every country's cultural traits is not possible. Instead, ISSS has provided information on International Education Systems for the largest country groups on campus (Saudi Arabia, Brazil, China, France, India, and Russia.
As faculty members, you should have all international students work with ISSS on all immigration matters but having a basic understanding of the regulations might be helpful.
- Full-time enrollment is legally required
- 12 hours for undergraduate students
- 9 credits per term for graduate students
- ABD students may enroll in 1-3 credits/term based on dissertation research stage
- ABA/BA students enroll in 4 credits/term
- Both undergraduates and graduate students require approval from ISSS to drop below the full-time course load.
- Online courses
- All students: Students MUST have an in-person course their last term. Online courses only in the last term are not permitted.
- Undergraduate students: Only one online course is permitted per term for undergraduate students. Students cannot take just one online class (and zero in person classes) and meet the full-time enrollment option.
- Graduate students: May take 3 credits online/term.
- Employment is limited to 20 hours per week (except for official school holidays) and limited to on-campus employers.
There may be times when international students use terms you are unfamiliar with. Please see the Glossary of Terms to learn more about some of these terms.