The importance of higher education is evident in today’s global economy. Especially in the 21st century, attending graduate school is being considered as an obligatory chapter of one’s professional life. As employers regard master’s level education as a key credential for picking employees for top positions, more students are prone to further their education. Aside from this substantial factor, advancing your education via master’s level education is a personally rewarding experience for prospective graduates. It is not only an opportunity to excel in one’s career or secure a better position in terms of promotion or salary, it is also a means to pursue the fulfillment of an intellectual quest or passion. For these reasons and many more, more people are moving from their home countries to pursue higher education abroad as international students.
In the past few decades, the numbers of international students has significantly increased due to the availability of scholarships and grants among other reasons. According to the OECD, from 2000 to 2010 almost 4.5 million tertiary students enrolled outside their native country of citizenship, a figure twice as big as the previous decade. When distinguishing between foreign students and international students, OECD define the latter as those who travel to a country different from their own for the purpose of studying for a period of more than 3 months. However, this definition varies from country-to-country in accordance to individual national education systems and immigration visa regulations. As the map of students intake shows, a large number of students primarily attend English speaking countries such as US, and UK followed by countries such as Scandinavian countries and Germany. More recently, Korea and other new players from Asia have emerged in making the mobility of international student more amplified.
Challenges faced by International student
The increased enrollment of international student has its own positive implications for the economy of host-countries. A report by the Canadian International Education Strategy Final Report shows that in 2010 international student expenditure on tuition, accommodation and living expenses contributed to more than 8 billion CAD to its economy. Besides its economic impact, the presence of international students also enables universities to attain a diverse campuses and a global reputation which raises their performance bar at a global level. The virtues of global education is also very evident when seen from the students’ perspective. For admitted students, going abroad is a forum where they can gain a quality education while obtaining a global perspective on academic issues, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures, learning new language and most of all an gaining an opportunity to discover themselves and their own potential. Despite these entire positive attributes, there are also some difficulties that students undergo throughout their education abroad. These challenges create a pressure on students, especially during the first semester of their stay, as they are new to the environment they are admitted in. Most common challenges they face are in relation to the new culture, language and social environments while potentially having limited academic resources and feeling homesick.
As international students join a new community, assimilating themselves to a new culture is an immense challenge. The cultural shock they experience will caused them to be surprised, confused, frustrated and in extreme cases can even cause grave misunderstanding with their colleagues and professors. Moreover, the cultural differences among classmates of different countries can also cause integration problems and force students to make friends with someone from his or her home country instead of trying to make friends with people from their host-country.
In most international universities English is regarded as a medium of instruction; hence, incoming students are expected to be fluent in both speaking and writing English. Despite the provision of obtaining a good grade in an English proficiency test, students mostly face difficulties in communicating fluently and writing well-oriented academic papers. As a result of such barrier, student may achieve low academic grades despite their potential. This barrier can cause students to be shy and discourage them from expressing themselves within and outside classroom forums. In extreme cases, students may even fail to submit a satisfactory assignment to their professors. Such setbacks, therefore, not only have implications for the student themselves but also for the overall academic setting, since insightful opinions or extraordinary ideas may be left out without being expressed.
In addition, when it comes to such barriers, the English language is not the only challenging factor students face. Even if international students are fluent in English, if they are attending school in a non-English speaking country they might face similar kinds of challenges. In such country, ignorance of the local language can hinder a student from accessing educational facilities such as libraries, printing places and lounges since most of the guidelines for these facilities are in the local language.
The differences in academic teaching style are another new thing students have to adapt to. Most international universities have a sophisticated standard for addressing their academic mission. For international student, with a rigorous academic background, catching up with this standard is much easier than for others. Moreover, student’s expectation of the classroom setting, teaching style, nature of assignments and technology used might be completely different from what they are used to. Hence, adapting to such difference is yet another issue that needs to be overcome for new international students on campus.
In general a lot can be said about the challenges that international students face. Recently, given the increasing number of students and the problem they are facing, a lot of academic research is being undertaken to find meaningful solutions to the issues above mentioned. These solutions point the finger towards both the student themselves and the universities. Students need to exert more efforts to break the barrier and universities have to provide more support for the students through assigning academic advisors and establishing counseling centers. However, at an equal level to the aforementioned solutions, student councils and similar associations should also play a greater role in helping out students to adapt to their new environment. Besides organizing a get together forum for students, councils should also focus on designing creative means to help out international students by facilitating intercultural interactions and assisting them in becoming familiar with their new academic environment.