Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been a longtime advocate of international student exchange, a proponent of international student–friendly visa policies, and has made a push to emphasize the importance of diversity within America’s higher education institutions. But with rising homeland security tensions following September 11th, it has been increasingly more difficult for international students to pursue an education in this country. Not only are there external obstacles inhibiting the success of foreign students in our universities, there are also internal challenges that inherently impede these students as they attempt to assimilate to the North American culture of education.
Just as American students face adversity when traveling and studying in foreign countries, there are many difficulties that must be overcome by international students in the United States. The language barrier may be the most intimidating and difficult to conquer, but basic communication skills that many American students take for granted can be a cause for concern, and it is imperative that international students learn to vanquish these barriers in order to be successful.
In one case, a twenty-five-year old graduate student who has the English skills of an eighteen-year-old freshman may feel downtrodden by his inability to communicate with American students at the level that he would in his own country. Although it may be frustratingly difficult to make friends, persistence is the key to success. The more that international students can teach Americans about their own culture, American students, in turn, will be more open and willing to exchange the same.
International students are sometimes less likely to ask for help when in need, and tend to be more reserved or modest due to the communication divide. In most American universities, assistance and academic guidance are available, but a student that is unfamiliar with the accessibility of these resources may not be able to capitalize.
Other subtle nuances such as the way in which Americans say hello can be alienating to some foreign students. Simply asking, “How are you doing?” to a stranger is unorthodox in some East Asian cultures for example. The sooner an international student can master the basic etiquette of day-to-day interaction, the easier it will be for that student to feel comfortable and blossom in the American higher education system.
Most students, after being away from home for a long time, can begin to feel homesick. However, activities and on-campus exposure to other students will aid by increasing morale and self confidence, and will eventually lead to the international student finding his or her own niche in the student population.
Integration, assimilation, self-pride, and a general sense of belonging on campus can be the most beneficial ways to succeed as an international student. As globalization and diversification are key to growing a strong and stable economy, it is imperative that our universities continue to empower international students to succeed alongside their American counterparts.
The Diversity Network sends its sincere thanks and appreciation to Riley Sklar for sharing his thoughts on the challenges facing international students in the US. If you would like to share your thoughts, email us at members(at)diversitynetwork.org.