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Finding a Sense of Belonging from Across the Globe: Technology and The International Student Experience

By: Ready Education on Aug 22, 2022 4:00:23 PM
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Transfer Shock

It is common for a transfer student to experience some degree of “transfer shock” - a dip in academic success during their first semester at their new institution. (Hills, 1965) Coming into a completely new environment with differing cultures, procedures and pressures can be daunting. Transfer students are stepping into a place where many students at their credit level have already built strong social networks - leaving transfer students feeling like the odd ones out. There's often a whole other extra layer of "outsiderness" for international students. 

We interviewed Cheyenne Woon, an international transfer student at Azusa Pacific University in California, to understand her experience.

Cheyenne’s Story

Cheyenne Woon, a 20-year-old biochemistry student from Malaysia, grew up knowing that her parents would work extremely hard to afford her the opportunity to study abroad. In her words, “they really admired the American education system, mainly because of the emphasis on work-life balance and they knew the importance of getting a good education. Because of that, they worked really really hard to give us the opportunities they never got.” She identifies herself as a very outgoing and driven person. “I’m an Enneagram type 3, ‘The Achiever!’” she exclaimed with a smile and a laugh. 

As driven and outgoing as she was, she was still incredibly nervous about transferring to a US school. When she heard that APU had an app, APU Now, she logged in and, with butterflies in her stomach, scrolled through the feed looking for other international students. Suddenly she came across a post from Yundi, a student from China, that said, “hey, if you’re an international student, contact me because we’re creating a group chat and we want to connect with you!”

“The post felt like it was God sent and I immediately reached out to her.” Yundi became one of her first friends and helped her with many questions and concerns that she had. “It gave me a lot of comfort before even coming to the US.”

Still, she did have moments where she felt “transfer shock.” Finally being on campus and in her very first class, Organic Chemistry 1, surrounded by strangers who already had friends felt overwhelming. “Immediately after class, I cried my eyes out, just because I was surrounded by sophomores that already knew each other and even though I was technically a sophomore too, I felt like a freshman. I felt super out of place and lost and disconnected.”

Finding a Sense of Belonging

Luckily for Cheyenne, that feeling of “outsiderness” didn’t last too long as she quickly got involved in extracurriculars like the “Third Culture Kids” club. There she met many diverse students who were interested in different cultures. “I wanted to find a sense of belonging and I can safely say that I found one of my closest friend groups today through this club.”

Having that first online connection with Yundi helped Cheyenne wade through the very real challenges of navigating an entirely new environment with more confidence so that she could continue to find like-minded peers and integrate into APU’s community. A comprehensive review of the research commissioned by the National Post-Secondary Education Cooperative (NPEC)  supports the idea that having a sense of belonging is associated with increased utilization of resources, greater student satisfaction, better mental health, and better academic performance. (Kuh et al., 2006) 

This definitely proved to be the case with Cheyenne, “I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to study in the US and meet so many great people and have so many great experiences. But for me, the feeling I’ll never ever forget is opening the APU Now app at the end of each semester and seeing STRAIGHT A’s!” 

A Message for University Administrators

When asked what message she would like to share with university administrators about the international student experience she said, “Make sure your international students feel heard and included. Take an interest in their experience and provide opportunities for leadership. I was blessed to be able to get a research assistantship in the bio lab and an on-campus job as a marketing coordinator to help promote the APU Now app’s value to other students.

It’s been rewarding for me to talk about APU Now with other students because I felt like it was super helpful for me to have a place where I can meet friends, but also access all the resources I needed day-to-day. We had our digital IDs there, the trolley tracker... we could check our dining points and we could see the school services and student clubs there too.”


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Hills, J. (1965) Transfer shock: The academic performance of the transfer student. The Journal of Experimental Education, 33(3), (Spring, 1965). (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 010 740).

Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Buckley, J. A., & Hayek, J. C. (2006). (rep.). What Matters to Student Success: A Review of the Literature (Commissioned Report for the National Symposium on Postsecondary Student Success: Spearheading a Dialog on Student Success ). National Postsecondary Education Cooperative.