Helping International Students Succeed

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For most students, starting their first higher education degree can be an overwhelming experience. Yet for international students, that feeling can be compounded by additional unique stressors and lack of support. To anyone who has worked with international students in higher education, this phenomenon is nothing new. International students are an ever-growing population on university and community college campuses around the world, yet their 'path to success' often feels more like an 'obstacle course.'

While the experiences of international students will vary depending on age, background, gender, etc., research shows that they are more likely to encounter academic, emotional, cultural and social challenges than traditional students. Common stressors for international students include changes in cultural values, racial & ethnic discrimination, financial problems, familial pressure and language proficiency, to name a few. Feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression are also common among these students, which is often aggravated by difficulty engaging with their peers and establishing support networks.

In response, universities and colleges have developed tailored services, targeted specifically towards the needs of these students. International student offices, additional orientation sessions, and language learning support are just some of the common on-campus services and programs offered. Yet, according to a recent article, data suggests that even when available, international students are less likely to use mental health, academic, or career counselling than their local peers. A recent study at an Australian university looked at reasons why those targeted services were under-utilized on campus. They found that their students “did not know how to access the service and that they could not find any information about the service at the time it was required” (Roberts, Dunworth & Boldy, 28).

Furthermore, an earlier study revealed that students were also concerned with the confidentiality of services, especially with regard to information being shared with family members (Roberts & Dunworth). Many universities have privacy policies in place protecting student information from public release, even to family members, yet it seems as though international students are unaware of this. What these studies make clear is that while services and programming may be necessary for international student success, they are insufficient if students are not made aware of why they are important, how they can be useful, and where they are located.

This too is not surprising information for student affairs professionals, as one of the primary challenges campuses face is effectively communicating with students. Traditional communication channels like email are often flooded with messages from multiple staff, professors, departments and organizations within the university. Add language barriers and communication differences between cultures and it’s understandable that international students encounter difficulties in finding, sorting and prioritizing this information.  

So how can student affairs professionals connect with international students in a way that highlights which services are important, how they are useful, and where they can be found? One method that has proven to be effective is engaging students through their medium of choice: mobile. Redefining their communications strategy around mobile, campuses are able to connect with and engage their international student community by:

Creating a One-Stop-Shop for International Students

Information is often spread across multiple websites and platforms, making it difficult for international students to find relevant, useful material. By pulling all of this content into one space via a mobile app, campuses have the opportunity to make accessing this information much easier for their students. However, how information is presented is also important. By using student friendly language and parceling information into sections that students can link directly to their lives, they are more likely to return to the app time and time again. For example, instead of having a section on 'Residence Life', a term that international students may not be familiar with, admins could rename this section 'Living on Campus.'

Leveraging Peer Support

Peer support programs are also becoming increasingly popular in higher ed through their ability to connect students to each other. While in theory, having students support each other in the name of success sounds wonderful, putting it into practice can be a bit more challenging. However, by leveraging mobile, peer mentors and students alike are able to engage with one another at all times, no matter where they are on or off campus. By giving students a campus wall to ask questions or share their problems, valuable admin time is often saved since most of these questions end up being resolved by other students.

Sending Targeted Push Notifications

Last but not least, push notifications are a powerful and effective tool when admins need to send targeted information to specific groups (like international students) without inundating the whole student body. They can be used to send out reminders about important deadlines or invitations to workshops, as well as build campus culture through sharing relevant event information or health & wellness tips.

Want to learn more about how mobile apps can help you engage with different student populations? Fill out the form below to schedule a quick call with an engagement specialist.

Roberts, P. A., Dunworth, K., & Boldy, D. (2017). Towards a reframing of student support: A case study approach. Higher Education, 75(1), 19-33. doi:10.1007/s10734-017-0127-z

Roberts, P., & Dunworth, K. (2012). Staff and student perceptions of support services for international students in higher education: a case study. Journal Of Higher Education Policy & Management, 34(5), 517-528. doi:10.1080/1360080X.2012.716000

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