Studying abroad brings many positive benefits to international students. But it can bring tremendous stress to them as well. These students need to adjust to a new curriculum, new ways of learning, a new language, a new home, a new society, and a new culture.
Add to these the stress of being away from family and friends and living alone for the first time.
It is not surprising, therefore, for many students to be physically and emotionally stressed.
Some manage to be resilient and find a good method to deal with their stress. Some turn to university professors and staff for support.
Fighting racism and discrimination
This year, international students have an additional stressor. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak has made everyone afraid. An offshoot of this fear is discrimination against Chinese and other international students of Asian descent.
Although there has been no news of riots or violence, these international students feel the “chill” of being ignored or avoided by their peers.
Many universities are concerned about this issue. To help their students through these trying times, some universities are implementing measures to show their support.
Greenville University (GU) will allow its residence halls to remain open during Spring break. Staff from its Office of International Affairs provide emotional support particularly to Chinese students who have been personally affected by the outbreak. There are activities like movie nights lined up for students who will remain on campus during the break.
Beyond these measures, the university is also showing support for China by getting medical supplies shipped to the country.
The microcosm of the classroom
Within classrooms, professors have different roles. Among these roles are they teach, mentor, and provide support.
Sometimes, though, professors do not know how to interact with international students.
Dr. Stefanie Baier, Michigan State University’s curriculum development director, shares the following advice:
|Go beyond the accent and language difficulty.|
The fact that these international students want to master a second or third language is proof of their hard work and pride at what they want to accomplish.
Don’t equate lack of articulation with low quality work. The students may be able to express themselves better at written rather than spoken English.
|Encourage international students to share their cultures and use this as a teachable moment for the entire class.|
On the other hand, be sure to explain any American or British or Australian cultural references you include in your lectures.
Don’t make assumptions about a culture you’re not familiar with. You might propagate a negative stereotype that could be troubling for your students.
|Allow international students to join different groups and take on varied roles. Let them experience what it’s like working with people from other cultures.|
Don’t encourage international students to form cliques of their own. This might lead to them being considered as the outsiders of the class.
|Encourage them to ask questions about things that they may have missed or misunderstood.|
Explain the rules that you impose in your class and the reasons for these rules.
Don’t patronize your students or give generalized feedback.
|Allow students, whether local or international, to adapt to college life. This is particularly important for students learning a new language.|
Don’t think that quiet participation equals inactivity.
|Find creative ways to help your students. Provide videos with closed captions. Allow them to record lessons so they may review after the class.|
Don’t evaluate your students’ performance based on their linguistic abilities. Rather, evaluate them on content knowledge and output.
|Try to meet your students halfway by learning their language.|
This may be a tall order with all the work you need to do. But, try to at least pronounce their names properly and learn some words that will make them feel that you genuinely care about them.
This may make you more sympathetic to their difficulties at least with the language of their new country.
Don’t avoid the challenge of learning more about your students.
Dr. Baier gives this final advice: foster connections between local and international students.
Perhaps through these measures and tips, people will remember that international students go through many stressful moments and need support from their educational communities, now more than ever.
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