Currently WCU has an ESL (English as a Second Language) program at Western. Note Link to Program. However, regular international degree-seeking students entering WCU have to pass the TOEFL (or Test of English Fluency Language) which indicates their present understanding of the English language. This does not, however, mean that their speaking ability matches their level of understanding. Don’t assume that since a student has a hard time speaking that they don’t understand what you are saying. Actually, it will be rare that you will encounter an international student who doesn’t speak English fluently. Most of our students either come from English speaking countries, or have attended an English speaking school prior to attending WCU.
The American classroom setting might be a bit odd to the international student. Here students engage in open conversation with their professors, can speak candidly and openly, and sometimes can talk without having to hold up their hand first. In many other countries, students don’t have that luxury. Many of our students come from places where the classroom is simply a lecture and the information given must be memorized and repeated for the exam. Critical thinking and creativity are not a part of their classroom experience. Many students adjust to this quickly though and actually find the ability to give their opinions very refreshing.
In most countries, religion is as much a part of their culture as flour is to bread. People from India especially might be defensive if you say they are Hindu. Theologians consider Hinduism a religion, but the people of India consider their religious acts, beliefs, and rituals a part of their lifestyle and culture. There are other countries that are similar to this. It is also important to remember that in some countries, there is no freedom of religion. To most international students, religion is very private and it is probably not a good idea to get into a discussion with them about it. Actually, just like here in the U.S.
We in the U.S. tend to be frank, outspoken, and opinionated compared to other countries in the world. Some international student might find this obnoxious, while others will find a sort of freedom with it. Also, our ideas of “independence” and “individuality” could be confusing to some students. They may be coming from a country where dependence and conformity are viewed as virtues! As with anyone who is different from you, it is best to learn from them and their life story and try to understand where they are coming from. The old “walk a mile in their shoes” idea.
Gestures and Communication
We have the luxury here to be able to speak freely about what we think and believe. Some international students will need some time to adjust to this. It is best to be open with these students and let them know it is okay for them to tell you when they are uncomfortable with something you may be doing. Example: Say you are with an international student and a bug lands on their shoulder. If it were me, I’d brush it off. But with an international student, you might want to say, “Hey, you have a bug on your shoulder. Do you want me to get it?” If they get it themselves, assume that they are not comfortable with you touching them and that their comfort zone is larger than yours. Also, when in conversation, it is always a good idea to ask an international student what they think of the topic you are discussing. They will not always openly share their opinions unless they are asked.
I bet if you asked students from this campus how have studied abroad who they became friends with while they were abroad, they would say other international students. Unfortunately, this is the same at WCU. Most of our international students either hang out with each other or keep to themselves. So, if you have an international student in your class or living on your hall, invite them to hang out with you, go have dinner with you, or go to a club/campus organization meeting with you. This way the international student will truly get a more holistic look at college life in the U.S. And you might learn something from them too!
Diet and Eating
I’ll get right to it. Americans eat out more than they eat at home. This means that junk food and fast food are at the core of our diets. This is a huge problem for our international students! For many incoming students, they will never get used to this. (Especially since the on campus options include food court type eateries and buffet style cafeterias!) The best thing to do is to encourage international students to cook for themselves (if a kitchen is available to them), find offerings on campus that will work for them, or to speak with Dining Services about making a change to the offerings on campus.
This is probably the number one most important issue for our international students here at WCU. Imagine not having family to go home to over breaks. Imagine not being able to run to the store if you have something you need to get for class. Imagine having to depend on someone else every single time you want to leave campus. This is the situation roughly 96% of our international students are in. There are two things you can do to help our international students out with this major issue: 1.) if you have a car, extend an offer to take a student somewhere if they ever need it. 2.) advocate for extended transportation to off campus locations.
Measurements and Math
There are those who say that math is the universal language. Let me tell you, this is not the truth. 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. Can you imagine doing math like that? So if there is an international student in one of your math or economics classes, ask how they’re doing!
Not only is healthcare given freely to citizens of some countries, but alternative medicine is also available to them. All students at WCU must have health insurance and this includes our international students. 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! That way if they feel uncomfortable about anything or have questions, you can be their support.
If you have any questions or would like some help working with an international student, please contact me! I would be happy to help you!
International Student Advisor
Cordelia Camp Bldg. 109