Supporting International Students

Because of language and cultural challenges, international students may struggle academically and suffer emotionally. International students often don’t have many experiences with native English speakers until their entry into the United States. They can also experience learning shock—the feeling of unease and frustration with unfamiliar learning and teaching methods and expectations (Xu, 2015). With care and knowledge of campus resources, instructors can help international students improve their communication and academic skills and minimize unnecessary obstacles to learning.

Campus Support  

Faculty are not alone in supporting international students. Instructors can direct students to many resources and support centers available at Baylor.  Faculty and students can email with questions. If international students are struggling to find community, they can check out the Department of Multicultural Affairs. The programs and activities sponsored by Baylor’s  Center for Global Engagement can also help international students adjust to American culture. The Counseling Center is equipped to support all students. For those struggling with English, the Graduate School offers a free course, English for Academic Purposes. The University Writing Center assists undergraduate and graduate students in all disciplines to become more effective, more confident writers. Many international students participate in Baylor’s Global Gateway Program.

The Paul. L. Foster Success Center has several services that can assist international students, such as Strategic Learning, Academic Coaching, and Tutoring.

Communication and Relating to Students

Communication challenges can affect international students in many ways. They may have difficulty keeping up with reading load; they might not be able to express themselves and so are often nervous about speaking in class, in groups, or with instructors; they may be unclear about teacher expectations (Bossio & Bylyna, 2006). Instructors can, however, support students’ English language development. Faculty can make students more comfortable by initiating discussion. Researchers found that 28% of international students responded it would improve their study experience if professors enhanced the student–teacher dialogue. International students are more likely to seek help with faculty who are open and friendly. Teachers should emphasize that they are available during office hours, where and when; avoid fostering students’ fear of errors; and reinforce students’ strengths (Little, 2004).

Also, with sensitive discussion, instructors can determine students’ specific difficulties and refer the students to learning specialists and language experts to develop appropriate interventions that are specifically related to their needs. Approaches for improving English skills that focus on students’ fields of study are much more motivating than those focused on general English skills.

Structure, Simplicity, and Samples

When presenting material in class, instructors can assist international students by using the principles of Universal Design for Learning, particularly presenting information in multisensory formats. For instance, when asking students to discuss a question in class, write the question on the board in addition to asking it verbally. If you record or provide learning videos for students, enable closed captioning (in Canvas, Kaltura automatically transcribes audio, with about 75% accuracy rate, and instructors can edit the transcription) Similarly, instructors can provide both oral and written feedback with suggestions for improving work.

Dolan and Macias (2009) emphasize the importance of structure—give explicit summaries and clear transitions between subjects. In addition, an effective lecture is one delivered at a normal pace with clear articulation, in which the presenter uses outlines, handouts, visual aids such as board, pictures, diagrams, video, bullets, numbering, and highlighting. International students benefit greatly from instructors’ additional assistance with organizational formats and practical demonstrations and examples (Bossio & Bylyna, 2006). Instructors can be unaware that they are not being fully understood in the classroom, so it is vital that they ask students to demonstrate, rather than just acknowledge, understanding (Little, 2004; see also Formative Assessment).

With assignments, instructors should strive for simplicity and clarity in goals and instructions. For instance, bullet points, rather than complex prose, can help international students more easily understand the requirements of an assignment. Since nonnative English readers need more time for reading, post assignments, readings, and technical vocabulary ahead of time (at least 2 days prior to class). International students may also better understand instructor expectations if they see sample assignments completed by past students.

Western Academic Practices

Learning culture at Baylor may be different than a student’s prior experience. Instructors can be explicit about the time required of the course and the best ways to prioritize tasks and organize time. (Rice University’s course workload estimator can help determine a course’s time commitments). Some international students are initially uncomfortable with many academic practices instructors and other students may take for granted, like expressing opinions, challenging the instructor, group projects, role-playing, paraphrasing and summarizing, referencing, analysis, evaluation, argument, and interrupting in less formal discussion (Macgregor & Folinazzo, 2017; Lin & Scherz, 2014). Instructors should recognize that hesitancy in some of these practices more likely indicates cultural differences than academic ability. Making these implicit expectations more explicit can help international students conform more quickly to Western expectations. Similarly, international students may be unfamiliar with Western concepts of academic honesty and attribution. Instructors can have open and collaborative discussions with students to help them understand Baylor’s standards (Bista, 2011; Evans & Youmans, 2000).


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