By Leonora Hall, Career Advising Fellow
International students are embarking on an educational journey when they study abroad. Their transition to a new institution and country is impacted by professionals at the university they are attending. How can student affairs professionals better support international students while they study abroad?
After talking to an experienced professional who works with international students, I recognize the importance of actively listening to students, especially those who are studying abroad. When immersing themselves into a new culture, students must learn to navigate cultural differences. For instance, in Congo, age is a sign of wisdom and a source of pride. On the contrary, it is common knowledge to most Americans to avoid asking a woman her age. Additionally, my friend from China pointed out differences in dating between China and the states. In China, when a man is dating a woman and walks her to her door, it indicates the relationship is moving to the next level. Though it is exciting for students to be immersed into a new culture, the cultural differences can be overwhelming, confusing and challenging. However, student affairs professionals can support students by listening to their experiences so they can help students with their experiences abroad.
As a career advisor, I have considered how I can better accommodate international students in one-on-one appointments. After talking to professionals , I recognize the importance of meeting students where they are. For example, advisors can ask students intentional questions like, “what do you want to gain from today’s appointment?”. A student may have an appointment to prepare for an interview. Instead of jumping into common interview questions, the advisor should ask where the student wants to start. The student may have questions about how to do their makeup and what kind of eye contact is considered “normal” in the states. Let the students guide the appointment and meet them where they begin.
Students studying for a semester abroad are not abroad from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. They are abroad all twenty four hours of each and every day. One student affairs professional shared an experience about an international student being hit by a car while studying abroad in the states. The professional immediately arrived at the hospital and was there for the student constantly, within and outside of normal work hours. While the student was recovering, a faculty member welcomed the student into her home because the student needed certain physical accommodations after the accident. Furthermore, the student had to attend court with the driver who hit him so the student affairs professional attended these court dates too. Obviously, the student needed support outside typical business hours. Especially with family living half way around the world. The professionals provided that support by being available, flexible and prioritizing the student.
Student affairs professionals who take the time to listen, understand and are available to international students are invaluable. Whether a student is learning what behaviors might be offensive in a new country or dealing with a crisis, professionals are supports that greatly impact an international students’ experiences. As advisors and educators, we want international students’ experiences to be meaningful, educational and positive which we can achieve by offering support.