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International Vantage Point.jpb Katy Oliveira-Lambert and Erin Ray, St. Edward’s University

Katy Oliveira-Lambert.jpgErin Ray.jpgThe wide world is becoming an increasingly small place. As more students choose to pursue an international education, university campuses across the globe are becoming microcosms of the larger world. The number of international students pursuing four-year degrees in the United States and around the world is rapidly increasing, and the number of students participating in study abroad experiences or exchange programs also continues to grow. The highly mobile nature of university students brings both interesting opportunities and significant challenges as students encounter academic systems vastly different from those they have experienced in their home cultures.

In the spirit of the rapid globalization of higher education, academic advising professionals from around the world joined together in Maastricht, The Netherlands for NACADA’s first International Conference in June 2013. Here advising professionals presented best practices and exchanged ideas and strategies for best serving students. Approaches for addressing the growing pains that accompany an expanding and diversifying student population were chief among the conference’s themes.

During the conference, professionals representing the United States, Great Britain, and The Netherlands conducted a conference panel on advising international students. The panelists, Laura Ballato (University of Groningen), Dalynda Evans (University of Oklahoma), Kathleen McKeiver (Northern Arizona University), Katy Oliveira-Lambert (St. Edward’s University), Erin Ray (St. Edward’s University) and Penny Robinson (University of Leeds), discussed a broad range of shared concerns and challenges as well as a myriad of suggestions for meeting the needs of an ever-internationalizing student population. Discussion topics and recommendations included the following.

Measuring Language Proficiency.  Many institutions currently use the IELTS and TOEFL assessments to measure English language proficiency. However, audience members discussed the challenges of relying on standardized assessments for measuring English language college readiness, acknowledging that language proficiency is a multi-faceted competency and that meeting language expectations at the university level is more difficult than merely possessing a working command of the host country language. Audience members shared experiences of working with students whose IELTS or TOEFL scores did not accurately reflect the students’ ability to function at the college level. A variety of strategies for bridging the gap between IELTS and TOEFL scores and the student’s ability to successfully utilize college level English were suggested. Panelists and audience members recommended: (1) developmental writing curriculum, (2) writing center and labs, (3) in-house placement testing, and (4) 1-credit academic support course.

Facilitating Adjustment to New Academic Culture. The panel discussed the prevalence of the American “Junior Year Abroad.” Concerns emerged regarding the vast differences between the American style of higher education and European, British, and Australian systems. The audience broadened this topic to also include challenges experienced by growing international student populations from China, Saudi Arabia, and India. International student populations universally experience some difficulty adjusting to academic systems that differ greatly from their home cultures. Common challenges international students face include: (1) adjusting to the conventions of written expression in the host country, (2) overcoming differences between teaching pedagogies, especially the difference between critical thinking and rote learning, (3) understanding classroom participation expectations, (3) learning conventions of academic honesty and avoiding plagiarism, and (4) successfully negotiating relationships with professors and with academic support staff.

The panel and audience shared a variety of best practices for assisting international students with adjustment to a new academic culture, including (1) training faculty to be mindful of cross-cultural communication gaps, (2) clarifying policies in written communication such as syllabi and academic publications, (3) creating support programs and curriculum to support international students, (4) providing more intentional academic support, and (5) utilizing peer mentoring programs.

The chief theme which emerged from the conference panel discussion is that the challenges and growing pains many universities are experiencing as their student populations grow and diversify are universal in nature.  It seems that all international students from all corners of the world will face some challenges as they transition to the academic culture of their host country. It is the job of academic advisors to be mindful of these challenges and intentional about connecting all students to campus resources that will help them to succeed. 

Katy Oliveira-Lambert
Academic Counselor, Academic Planning & Support Services
Adjunct Instructor, University Programs
St. Edward’s University
katyo@stedwards.edu  

Erin Ray
Academic Counselor, Academic Planning & Support Services
St. Edward’s University
erinr@stedwards.edu

Cite this article using APA style as: Oliveira-Lambert, K., & Ray, E. (2013, December). Panel discusses the universal nature of academic adjustment for international students. Academic Advising Today, 36(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]

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