Working with International Students

Currently WCU has an Intensive English Program (IEP) (English as a Second Language) program at Western.  Note Link to IEP. Regular international degree-seeking students before entering WCU must pass the TOEFL (or Test of English Fluency Language) or other English proficiency exam which verifies their present understanding of the English language.  However, this does not mean that their speaking ability may equal their level of understanding.  Therefore, try not to assume that since a student has a hard time speaking that they don’t understand what is being said. International students at WCU will either have come from an English speaking country or have learned English from an early age prior to attending WCU.

Educational Background
The American classroom setting might seem a bit odd to the international student.  Thankfully at WCU, international students may engage in open conversation with their professors, may speak candidly and openly, and sometimes even talk without having to hold up their hand first. Yet, in other countries, students may not have these same liberties.  Some international students at WCU may come from places where their classroom(s) are simply a lecture and the information given must be memorized and repeated for the exam.  Critical thinking and creativity may not have been a part of their overall classroom experience.  Some will need to quickly adjust to the U.S. but will find the ability to offer their own opinions quite refreshing.

General Attitudes
People from the U.S. may tend to be overly frank, or outspoken, or very opinionated compared to others from around the world. Some international students may find these attitudes to be obnoxious, others may not. U.S. ideas about “independence” and “individuality” may also be confusing to some students, who may be natives of countries where dependence and conformity are viewed as virtues. 

Gestures and Communication
In the U.S., people have the freedom to speak freely about what they think and believe.  Some international students may need some time to adjust to this, so it may be best to reamin open with them and to let them know it is okay for them to tell you when they are uncomfortable with something. Hence when in conversation, it is always best to ask an international student what they think of the topic of discussion, as they may not always be open to share their opinions unless they are asked.

Campus Involvement
The office of international programs and services (IPS) attempts the best it can to get international students involved on campus. Either via the Study Abroad Fair each September or International Education Week each November or the International Festival (I-Fest) each April. Otherwise, students may choose to join a student run organization, on campus Greek organizations, etc.

Diet and Eating
IPS and WCU encourages international students to choose wisely when eating on campus at the Courtyard dining hall or other eateries around campus. And, if the student still has problems with what's available to eat on the WCU campus, IPS encourages them to speak with Dining Services to offer recommendations.

This is probably the number one most important issue for international students here at WCU. While there is minimal transportation off campus unless students have cars, many students tend to find their roommates or friends to be available when they need to go off campus to shop for groceries, etc.
Jackson Country Transit is also available for international students.   

Measurements and Math
There are those who say that math is the universal language. However,  an obvious difference between the U.S. and other countries is the use of the metric system.  A not so obvious difference is how math is done.  In some countries basic numbering is done differently.  For instance, in the U.S. the number 34 is said as “thirty-four”.  In other countries 34 would be said as four and thirty. 

All students at WCU must have health insurance. The student health insurance policy covers only basic medical needs.  So if a student is used to, say, acupuncture therapy or herbal therapy, they’re out of luck.  A good way to help them is to ask if they would like accompaniment to their appointments. 

If you have any questions or would like some help working with an international student, please contact IPS:

Cordelia Camp Bldg. 109
Marg Z. Basehart

International Student Advisor for Programs and Outreach


Copyright by Western Carolina University      •      Cullowhee, NC 28723      •      828.227.7211      •      Contact WCU
Maintained by the Office of Web Services      •      Directions      •      Campus Map      •      Emergency Information      •      Text-Only

Office of Web Services