Better Understanding Your International Students

Institutions across the US have increased the number of international students on their campuses. While these students are welcomed through admission, it is important for faculty and staff to remember that international students have needs both similar to and different from their American student counterparts.

When I work with international students, I try to think about what international students may be experiencing. In some ways their experiences are similar to other new-to-campus students. Both are learning to navigate a new academic experience and new surroundings, register for classes, make friends, and take care of practical needs like finding a place to buy groceries or do laundry.  But in addition to these challenges international students are also adjusting to a new culture and, for some, a different language.

Consider if you were dropped in a place and had to learn how to navigate a new way of life, in a language you may “know” but have never had to use in daily life, and where you had few resources or did not know how to access the resources available to you. Additionally, you are studying in a new education system where academic expectations were different and did not always make sense to you.

By contrast, American students simply by growing up in the US, even if they move to a new city for college, have the advantage of familiarity of systems and expectations, and when they need help they have a stronger sense of where to look for resources.  For the international student, the additional challenge of learning to operate in English is an extra stressor that can make every interaction a bit more challenging and life a bit more tiring.

IntlInternational students are also faced with unique financial challenges due to US immigration laws. In order to be awarded a visa to study in the US, international students must annually be able to show proof of liquid finances (like funds in a bank account) to cover one year’s expenses. This amount will be a different for every campus but at the University of Maryland, College Park, that figure is currently $46,788 ($27,288 for tuition, $16,500 living expenses, and $3,000 books and insurance). Keep in mind they must show these funds available each year.

Earning funds through employment can also be difficult because most international students are in the US on a student visa that allows them to work only 20 hours a week and then only in an on-campus position. They are also not eligible to work in a position that is funded through the Federal Work-Study program because they are not eligible for Federal Financial Aid.

For those students nearing the end of the academic program, the US government has certain expectations for international students who wish to stay in the US to work. After graduation international students may be employed on their student visa for up to one year, but they must be sponsored by an employer and employment must be related to their field of study. This process is actually not difficult for the employer as the student’s university continues to manage their visa for that year, but some employers are still hesitant to hire these students.

As student affairs professionals, we can assist international students by becoming familiar with their experiences and challenges. This will allow us to have better communication and relationships with these students and to take their needs in to consideration along with those of traditional US students.

In this new semester, consider the international students on your campus. What types of students are on your campus and where do they come from? How might your campus and staff engage these students and help integrate to your campus?

Student Housing Matters is pleased to host Meredith Carpenter as a guest blogger this month.  She is the Coordinator for Human Resources in the Department of Resident Life a the University of Maryland, College Park.