University’s Academic Services for International Undergraduate Students
It is known worldwide that the human society is a rather complicated phenomenon. The existence of numerous racial and ethnic groups, and their peaceful living in the world, has always been complicated by misunderstandings resulting from cultural unawareness and lack of education. Drawing from this, education can be viewed as the main means of ensuring intercultural understanding (Pffafenroth, 1997). At the same time, it is the main sphere where students from various countries have to study together and their co-existence impacts their academic results and career prospects greatly. Taking into account the fact that foreign students “have always remained one of the most quiet, invisible, underserved groups on the American campus” (Andrade, p. 87) this issue acquires even more significance. Therefore, it is necessary to study the specific steps and measures that American higher educational establishments offer for international students to adjust to the new culture and study methods they have to face in American education.
First Year Seminar Programs
To start with, it is necessary to take into consideration the initial stages of the foreign students’ adjustment to the new social, cultural and educational demands in their Universities and on campuses. It is obvious that people coming from India or China treat the culture they enter as entirely new and unfamiliar one (Pffafenroth, 1997). Moreover, English is not their native language, and lack of knowledge of certain colloquial and academic set expressions and vocabulary makes their communication with fellow students more difficult and limited to the classroom. Also, the cooperation of foreign students outside the classroom with their new acquaintances faces obstacles which are impossible to overcome without close attention paid to them from the very start (Andrade, 2006). Realizing the whole complexity and importance of these issues, universities in the USA start implementing respective programs that help their international students adjust to the cultural and educational demands of the environment faster and better. What is more important, these programs improve their academic performance and enlarge their knowledge in various spheres. Thus, for example, A First Year Seminar Programs are implemented in Brigham Young University in Hawaii and in some other establishments in the Western US to facilitate the cultural assimilation of international students to the American society (Andrade, 2006).
The essence of these programs lies in the complex and comprehensive approach to the issues mentioned above. For example, the unnamed University in the West of the US, according to Andrade (2006), realizes that students are unable to keep with all the new requirements during the two-day preparatory courses when they have only arrived to the campus. Thus, this university has developed a program reflected in the two-credit course that helps students with cultural, language and academic skills they need starting their study. Moreover, as the outcome of the course, surveys of students’ opinions about the course are usually taken. They demonstrate complete support of the program by the students who appreciate greatly the English as the Second Language program and cultural studies as parts of the course. These measures assist them in establishing contacts with fellow students from the USA and other countries, as well as in developing their friendships and communicative ties with native bearers of the American culture. This results in the improved academic skills and successful study of foreign students (Andrade, 2006).
American Language Program
Moreover, the needs of international students speaking English as their second language or experiencing problems with it at all are also considered by such educational establishments as Columbia University and New York’s City College. The programs these educational institutions offer to their international students are similar in their aim but their major instruments are different to some extent. The Columbia University makes use of the so called American Language Program (ALP) while the New York’s City College implements the usual English as the Second Language (ESL) program for its students. Accordingly, the main principles of these programs are as follows (Schweers, pp. 3 – 5).
ALP is the eight-stage course of English directed at comprehensive mastery of the language by non-native speakers from Asia and other regions. The program embraces all the spheres of language competence beginning from the spoken language and simple conversational phrases and ending with the fundamental principles of academic writing including essay structure, clear argumentation, etc. Moreover, the course of ALP is thematic and team taught, meaning that students choose a theme and unite in teams to study it with the purpose of achieving academic proficiency. Drawing from this, “the ALP can be characterized by the alliteration: theme, team and academe” (Schweers, p. 7).
On the other hand, the ESL program of New York’s City College is one of over 392 of such course in the USA. Its main difference from ALP is that it is directed at those who live in America permanently but have problems in academe with their language skills. It is also complex, three-semester course directed at improving fluency, clarity and correctness of English in its students. Both programs are, however, helpful for international students that comprise more than 45% of the annual number of newly enrolled students of the US universities. Thus, the issue of assistance to international students in their academic needs is burning and universities take measures to be as helpful as possible (Schweers, p. 6).
Access to Information and Study Needs
It goes without saying, that students need free access to sources of information during their process of study. Information is utilized by students of various specializations for learning purposes, academic achievements, as well as for improving communication skills, and so on. Special significance is attributed to the access to information by foreign students as, besides ordinary educational needs, information is the initial instrument for them to get first knowledge of the new culture they chose to study in. Thus, access to libraries, both online and permanent ones, Internet resources as well as perfect quality of academic services, educational courses and additional student development programs are all very important for foreign students (Pffafenroth, 1997).
Consequently, such institutions as Texas Woman’s University, Glendale Community College and some other pay special attention to the issues of informational needs of their students. The initial measure taken by Texas Woman’s University was the survey of opinions of its international students in respect of their main goals in accessing information. The results demonstrated that 21,3% of the students needed it for improvement of their English proficiency, 45,9% used informational sources for academic needs, and among others 16,4% experienced the need of periodicals in their native languages (Yi, p. 668). Drawing from these results, the university implemented the program of the advanced development of the informational resources and online databases it possesses or has access to. As a result, the libraries in the Texas Woman’s University became more frequently used due to their improved services quality and easier ways of finding the necessary information. The access to online databases was also improved by the university’s registrations to the most advanced online sources (Yi, 668 – 669).
Further on, Glendale Community College also has its procedures to assist international students in adjusting to the foreign environment. First of all, the application and enrollment procedures are rather challenging and include such English proficiency tests as TOEFL (Knight, N., 1998). Although viewed as an obstacle for foreign students, it is actually an advantage for them as it allows identifying their language skills levels and working with them accordingly. For example, some of them can start participating in ESL programs from the second of third level, while others need overall improvement and are more involved in the ESL course (Knight, N., 1998). Moreover, Extended Opportunity Program and Services are implemented in the college to provide those students who need additional study hours with access to libraries and possibilities to take up online courses. Also, the students of Glendale Community College are involved in a number of educational and sport programs including Athletics, Bookstore, Scholarship Program, etc (Knight, N., 1998). These measures help them in academic and outside social integration into the culture which is new to them.
International Student Services Office
Further on, the universities and colleges provide their international students with whole institutions that are directed at their assistance. Among them, the so called international students’ services offices are the regular forms of international student counseling and advising. The necessity of such institutions is obvious from the simple fact that international students, besides being taken aback by new cultural reality, are absolutely unfamiliar with the educational system of the country they arrive in (Poyrazli, S. & Graham, K. M., 2006). For example, they need information on the very procedure of enrollment in a university, its academic rules, necessary English proficiency levels, etc. and these are the areas in which international students’ services offices come to their assistance. The performance of these services offices is constantly assessed by both their own internal departments and by outside offices representing the committees defending the rights of international students in foreign universities (Poyrazli, S. & Graham, K. M., 2006).
The major areas that the International Students Services Offices address in various universities can be limited to four main points. They address such areas of students’ activity as “academic, legal, economic, and social” life of international population of university and college campuses (Hammons, p. 28). These points include such sub-groups of questions as getting acquainted with the course requirements and demands, their equivalents in the home country of a certain student, as well as the assessment criteria, pass-fail system of certain credits, and many other phenomena. Moreover, the integral connection between the academic performance of international students and their relations with fellow students in class and on campus is being considered by International Students Services Offices with special attention paid to accommodating foreign students in native families (for more details see the Limited-English-Proficiency (LEP) Students Homestay chapter).
To exemplify the application of the International Students Services Offices in practice, such educational establishments can be taken into account as Texas A&M University, New York City Technical College, City University of New York and some others. Thus, for example, in the City University of New York the performance of the International Students Services Office is close to being perfect according to surveys carried out among students. The activities of this office connected or related to academic success of international students comprise the set of the vitally important aspects as:
- activities of the office for foreign students advising needs;
The first and the most significant point while the proper administration of the office and directing its forces to the areas that need help most of all is paramount. Thus, under today’s circumstances with the dramatic increase of international campus population (it grew by 1,200% over the last four decades), activities of the office are rather useful for international students (Hammons et al., pp. 26 – 27).
- consulting activities in which students and staff teachers take part;
In the City University of New York, as well as in any other educational establishment aware of the international students’ problems, it is self-evident that foreign students are in need of clear and precise information about the demands that teachers have for them in academe. Therefore, the direct communication with the chance to ask any question is the best way to avoid any misunderstandings in the process of study. These consulting meetings are regular and can eliminate the problems that might appear in the academic process after all issues were discussed initially (Hammons et al., pp. 26 – 27). The examples of such problems can be difficulty in library use or Internet database access, etc.
- development and participations in special international student oriented academic programs;
This aspect of the performance of the International Students Services Office is vital for students in need of development of their communicational and English skills, including listening, speaking, comprehension, reading and proficient academic writing capabilities (Hammons et al., pp. 26 – 27). These programs, like ESL, ALP and many others are developed specifically for international students and guided by offices or staff counselors in order to ensure their correct implementation and effective outcomes.
- assistance in all outside issues that might effect academic performance;
This point is also significant as far as for the international students there are a number of factors that affect their academic success. These factors include issues with immigration documents, financial aids to international students in need of money, tuition fees or accommodation payments, and many other factors (Hammons et al., pp. 26 – 27). For example, if a student is taken into consideration who came to the United States with lack of money, it is the task of the International Students Services Office to advice him or her as for what he or she could take up to overcome this issue. Accordingly, the International Students Services Office can advice this student in looking for a part-time job that would not distract the student’s attention from the study and at the same time will help in paying for accommodation or tuition. Universities whose major student base are international applicants are aware of all these challenges, and the programs introduced by New York City Technical College, Texas A&M University, City University of New York and other institutions are necessary steps in facilitating the study of international students in the United States (Hammons et al., pp. 26 – 27).
Limited-English-Proficiency (LEP) Students Homestay
Furthermore, educational establishments that are respectable among international students take up some more steps to meet the requirements of such a specific group of students as the latter. One of the most effective steps in this respect is the opportunity for the international students to obtain accommodation in the native families in the cities where their universities or colleges are located. These opportunities are planned and properly developed programs by educational institutions that are directed at facilitating the adjustment of the international students to the academic requirements through the context of cultural and social assimilation to the environment of this or that country. Moreover, they allow students from abroad to master language at all the levels they need to enter the study process in their universities. In other words, international students acquire initial knowledge of colloquial language, while their writing and academic speaking skills are developed in their universities and colleges further (Harris, p. 3).
One of such programs is the so called Limited-English-Proficiency (LEP) Students Homestay which is carried out by the Iowa Wesleyan College in order to ensure the best possible adjustment means for its international students. It is a complex program that involves both the activity of the college staff and International Students Services Office and the students who have had experience in homestay in their past years. Accordingly, the first step in the program is the search of such persons, coordinators, who can explain clearly to the newly enrolled foreign students all the advantages of the Limited-English-Proficiency (LEP) Students Homestay. However, another part of their assignment is to demonstrate the purely willful character and is not imposed on any of the students (Harris, pp. 4 – 5).
The next step of the program is the search of the host families and their respective preparation. That search is conducted through advertising and social workers who might assist the college in finding the most fitting families. The latter, accordingly, are prepared to host an international student in respect of their behavior and functions that a host family can impose on a student while he or she is accommodated in their apartment. Also, the principles of intercultural communication are taught to the families for the time of student’s staying at theirs to be as effective as possible (Harris, p. 5). Accordingly, families are further interviewed as for their backgrounds, possible racial conflicts they have been involved in, their readiness to cooperate with the college and with the international students.
The final step of this program is the selection process of the applicants for the accommodation in the cities of the college location. The students are interviewed as for their willingness to take up the Limited-English-Proficiency (LEP) Students Homestay and as for their readiness to certain difficulties they might face at initial stages of their homestay living. After all the steps are successfully carried out, the program finds its practical realizations in the shaping of so-to-say “couples” meaning the host family and a student from abroad. Despite the fact that the program seems to be a preparation instrument for socio-cultural adjustment of the international students, its main essence lies in the educational purposes it pursues (Harris, p. 3).
Thus, the academic value of the Limited-English-Proficiency (LEP) Students Homestay can be limited to the following points specified in the service report by the Iowa Wesleyan College (Harris, 1993, p. 4):
- to improve the English skills of non-English speaking international students so that they can be successful as regularly enrolled students at IWC;
- to develop students’ listening and speaking skills;
- to have students become comfortable speaking with Americans;
As it can be clearly observed from the above presented considerations, the Limited-English-Proficiency (LEP) Students Homestay offered by the Iowa Wesleyan College to its international students is a direct measure to facilitate the academic performance of the latter and increase the efficiency of international programs that this college and many other educational establishments might carry out (Harris, p. 4).
International Students Distant Study
Finally, in case if the international students can not adjust to the academic requirements and cultural peculiarities of the host country, the most highly developed and progressive educational establishments offer their online courses. Their curricula are similar to the ones of the regular stationary courses taught at the university or college, and the only difference between them is that they are taught distantly and demand special skills from both students and professors (Mende, p. 1). Technical equipment necessary for this kind of study is not complicated, however, there is a necessity of special skills that both participating sides of the academic process must have. Their Internet use skills should be, at least, at the medium level, while the abilities in respect of computer software use should be higher than average. One more advantage of this very way of study is that it offers international students the opportunity to be employed in their home countries and face no need of cultural and academic adjustment to the new reality (Mende, p. 3).
Some of the examples of such a program successful implementation are the Cambrian College in Ontario, Canada, Humber College and some other colleges and universities (Mende, pp. 3 – 5). The essence of the program is the making of study in these educational establishments more accessible and affordable for the larger numbers of people around the globe. Driven by the situation that only the US and Canadian educational systems had no uniform program of treating the international students, the authorities of these countries made an attempt to improve the situation in the middle of 1990s. By the beginning of the 21st century, the positions of the international students were considerably improved and their opportunities in respect of the study in American and Canadian universities and colleges grew dramatically.
The first, and the most important, problem for the foreign students was the high tuition fee that they had to pay for their education. This circumstance was worsened by the fact that in comparison to the fees paid by native students in the same universities, the fees for foreigners were much higher. For example, the international student fees in the Cambrian College in Ontario were four times as high as the fees paid by Canadians or Americans. One more difficulty for the international students was that they could not afford accommodation or trip to the location of their chosen university or college. Thus, to overcome these difficulties the authorities of the large number of Canadian and American universities and colleges decided to offer the option of the distant study for its international students (Chang, T. & Chang, R., 2004).
The program was initially connected with numerous difficulties in respect of software choice, means of free and everyday communication, instruments of academic activities carried out distantly including discussion of the difficulties students might have had doing an assignment, etc. Also, certain course of the qualification development for instructors and staff of the colleges and universities was carried out teaching them the basics of document digital formatting, electronic male use, etc. All these activities provided the students of the Cambrian College in Ontario, Canada, Humber College and some other educational institutions with the opportunities of distant study which is convenient and time-saving for both parties (Knight, J., 1997).
Having considered the major programs and activities that American, Canadian and other colleges and universities offer to their international students, it would not be out of place to assess their effectiveness in this paper. The measures of the effectiveness are the achievements that international students, according to their answers to different survey questions, managed to do after they have attended the courses under ESL-like programs or participated in some other university-guided activities. Moreover, the statistical data about the numbers of international students who succeeded in the educational programs of their universities and colleges are also taken into consideration. Accordingly, here are the rates of the effectiveness of the academic services for international students in universities and colleges (Quintrell & Westwood, p. 48).
First of all, the foreign students themselves assess ALP, ESL and other programs mentioned above as rather effective and helpful. For example, the survey carried out in the University of British Columbia, South Australia, demonstrated that the students are mainly positive about their achievements after such programs as Peer-Pairing, ESL, etc (Quintrell & Westwood, p. 52). Thus, among over two hundred international students quested over 70% called the programs educational and highly evaluated the help of those programs in their academic success. Also, 68% of the foreign students called the programs they went through as challenging ones, while 56% also talked about these programs as satisfactory activities for their academic needs (Quintrell & Westwood, p. 52).
Another way to assess the effectiveness of the above considered programs is the rate of the so-called sense of coherence as the main factor (Grayson, p. 473). In other words, students’ understanding of the requirements posed, access to the means of their fulfilling and realizing of their necessity are those factors that predetermine the academic performance’s success. Accordingly, it is not the origin of the students that impacts the success in study but the extent to which students adjust to the course requirements (Grayson, p. 489). Consequently, international students’ programs and services help the latter in this adjustment, and their effectiveness can be assessed as a high one as on the average 88 international students of 110 display maximum level of the sense of coherence after various programs and services.
Accordingly, assessing the effectiveness of the above discussed programs and international students’ services, it is necessary to offer certain steps that could improve the situation to the larger extent leaving no student group dissatisfied with the programs provided for them. To start with, it is necessary to state that, according to Baloglu (2000), foreign students are not rather open to counseling and academic help proposed. The most trusted social group they address for counseling and advice are their friends, which are followed by parents and teachers, and only the fourth position is taken by academic counselors (Baloglu, 2000). The reasons for such a situation are numerous beginning from the personal characteristics of the counselors and counseling atmosphere, and ending with the counseling goals and possible public opening of the information revealed by the students to their counselors (Chang, T. & Chang, R., 2004).
Drawing from this, it is necessary to put more trust for academic counseling and educational services in the international students. This can be done in two basic ways. The first of them is the clear manifestation of the successful examples of international students who benefited from counseling. The second way is to admit international graduate students as counselors for undergraduates, undergraduate students as counselors for newly enrolled students, etc (Olivas, M. & Li, C. S., 2005). These steps will bring considerable results as despite any academic activities, students have more trust in their peers than in the older and more experienced people whom they hardly know. Moreover, clear examples of the students who succeeded in using counseling for their academic progress are much more effective than lectures, seminars and other theoretical classes of the kind. So, improvements that can be made into the procedures of the international students’ services concern mainly the psychological side of the issue, while its other aspects are properly developed by the educational authorities and bring remarkable positive results today.
So, to conclude, it is necessary to state that universities and colleges in the USA, Canada, Australia and a number of other countries provide their international students with various programs and services aimed at facilitating their academic performance and improving their study results. These programs include ESL, ALP, First Year Seminars, International Students Services Offices’ activities, etc. They are mostly successful as international students assess them. However, certain improvements are still in question. They are connected with the cultural and personal peculiarities of certain student groups, and if their improvement is carried out properly, the positions of international students will be rather protected and firm in the educational establishments abroad.
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