International Students: Expectations vs. Reality

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Much like the devices they tote around in their pockets, post-secondary students are becoming increasingly mobile; seeking out opportunities to study abroad in numbers upward of 5 million, world-wide. International students go the 'extra miles' for the opportunity to earn a quality education, internationally recognized credentials, and cross-cultural experience. The often referred to “expectation versus reality” discrepancy - made popular by DIY projects that don’t quite live up to Pinterest standards- is surprisingly relevant to the experiences of many international students. Particularly so, when dealing with challenges related to socio-cultural adaptation, mental health and emotional well-being. Of course, an analysis of potential issues demands a follow-up discussion around solutions: Expectations International students do their research and seek out post-secondary institutions that not only offer good bang for their buck in terms of post-graduation outcomes, but also promise an atmosphere of acceptance and belonging. A collective 47% of respondents in the Hobsons International Student Survey 2016 expressed a desire to remain in their destination country after graduation, both short- and long-term. Clearly, international students are looking for a place to call home. Even if just for the time being.

47% of respondents expressed a desire to remain in their destination country after graduation

Reality Culture-shock has the potential to derail student engagement and success, in the absence of necessary supports. For instance, barriers to communication and participation may arise, especially for non- native speakers. The rampant use of abbreviations, slang words, and idiomatic expressions on campus may provoke feelings of social isolation and confusion among international students. Not to mention, the cultural variation in day-to-day actions and behaviours that we so often take for granted. Moreover, only 55% of respondents have at least one parent with a degree (Hobsons International Student Survey 2016), thus identifying as first-generation. Navigating the waters of higher education- and in a foreign place, no less- while far from the familiar comforts from home, is sure to take its toll on the mental and emotional well-being of international students. Solutions        Many post-secondary institutions boast peer-support programs, as well as clubs and organizations for international students to seek out familiarity in a foreign place, expand their intercultural knowledge, and establish a campus presence. As reported by the International Student Survey, 71% of prospective international students use social media to research destination schools (Hobsons, 2016), demonstrating the potential value of technology as a tool for ongoing student engagement.

71% of prospective international students use social media to research destination schools

As the holiday season approaches, post-secondary institutions may be asking themselves how they can support and accommodate the many international students that will remain on an otherwise quiet campus. As evidenced through recent initiatives, the willingness of staff, faculty, and fellow students to include their international peers in personal traditions and celebrations, can prove to be a memorable and enriching experience for all parties involved. But why stop there? During a time when home-sickness is likely to peak, international students may find comfort in sharing their own cultural and religious customs, or collectively creating new traditions- both on and off campus- through an inclusive “Festivus for the Rest of Us”.


Source Referenced: Hobsons Solutions. (2016). Hobsons international student survey 2016. Retrieved from

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