For many international students, arriving in a new country is both exciting and overwhelming. With campuses reflecting real-time international affairs and anti-globalization rhetoric affecting school atmospheres, schools must respond with open arms, welcoming students and supporting them with recruitment efforts and community building, from initial culture shock through final exams.
A welcoming atmosphere starts during recruitment. Beyond language testing scores and transcripts, provide opportunities for prospective students to ask questions about day-to-day life on campus, from weather and trips home, to school spirit and dorm life. Current international students are a great resource; consider hosting a question and answer webinar. The more prepared incoming students are, the better they will rise to academic and social challenges once they arrive.
After flights are purchased, visas are arranged and goodbyes are said, students may feel adrift immediately upon landing. Homesickness and alienation can continue through the excitement and chaos of orientation week. While domestic students may be enthusiastic about their first chance to be on their own, this experience may prove even more isolating for their international counterparts.
Features of a welcoming campus:
An international student orientation that goes beyond campus tours and social events: Co-ordinating domestic and international student leaders to help freshmen with move-in, purchasing school supplies and groceries and setting up local phone numbers and bank accounts will ease first-day jitters and create a foundation for student success.
A domestic-international mentorship program: This enables international students to navigate campus resources efficiently with little administrative effort while also highlighting the importance of cultural exchange from both sides of the student experience.
An international student network: Properly-funded international and country-specific student associations can encourage first-year students to meet regularly with upperclassmen for check-ins as the semester's challenges transition from landing issues to academic and social hurdles.
Combatting holiday homesickness: Host on-campus cultural events, allowing international students to share traditions from their own countries. Pairing this with a program for international students and local host families during dorm closures means students will feel the warmth of a family environment, even if different from their own.
While schools must offer resources to support international students, the responsibility to succeed is shared. When Meiyi, an international student from Chengdu, China, first arrived in Toronto, Canada, she faced a language barrier she wasn't anticipating: the temptation to speak Chinese on campus. Her Canadian high school was in a multicultural neighbourhood, and while the community was welcoming and made her feel at home, it took a lot of self-discipline to only speak Chinese with her family back home. Meiyi's drive to push herself to immersion led to her success in North America: from Toronto, she enrolled at Purdue University and recently graduated with a Master's degree from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Whether students arrive aged twelve or twenty-two, they should feel that their new campus, residence and peer group are just that: theirs. A welcoming campus environment can positively affect student outcomes, and engaging both domestic and international students underscores the benefits of cultural exchange. Students and schools share the responsibility of an international education, but it is schools that must take the lead in welcoming students to their new communities.
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