By Brandon Lee, CEO, Terra Dotta
Today, it is more important than ever for higher education institutions to foster a safe and reassuring environment for international students – both for the benefit of developing a global and inclusive learning environment and to effectively model diversity and collaboration for tomorrow’s global citizens and workforce.
Below are a few practical steps that universities can take to create harmony on their campuses and promote a supportive atmosphere for international students with dedicated events and international programming.
Check In with English-Learning Students
For international college students who are learning English as a second language, the transition to campus life can already be more challenging due to communication taking longer or requiring more support. To help prevent feelings of isolation while also keeping a pulse on international student wellness, some of our university clients have instituted programs to gather international students together during regular intervals during the semester.
During these meetings, international students are given the opportunity to speak with others in their native languages, share stories and offer support to one another. These gatherings can also be an opportunity to gauge whether students are having trouble adjusting to campus life, to identify unique challenges or to proactively offer strategies to combat any uncomfortable scenarios that international students may be experiencing.
Create Dialogue Between International and Domestic Students
Universities’ international offices are often central to helping international students adjust to their new college environments – coordinating housing, social events, etc. We’ve also seen many of these offices successfully integrate students into campus life by connecting them with opportunities with departments that focus on international studies, global diversity and conflict resolution. Additionally, some have successfully held workshops with different groups on campus – ranging from campus administration to recreation center staff and professors in various colleges – to develop the skills necessary to nurture international students and help these students effectively engage with domestic students.
Don’t Tiptoe Around Tough Topics
While it may seem easier and appear more “positive” to ignore thorny issues, it actually does a disservice to all students on campus and may inadvertently promote more tension. Instead, universities that choose to acknowledge serious issues and their impact on students and faculty are bringing a serious problem into the light.
An open and honest approach then allows for a collaborative response from the entire university – across departments and cultures – with the goal to promote inclusion and celebrate diversity. For example, some colleges offer programs to educate the campus community on Islam to differentiate the religion and its followers from stereotypes or any negative portrayals on the news or by political figures.
U.S. higher education institutions have a real opportunity to offer a globally inclusive environment by executing programs that help facilitate productive communication and understanding among international and domestic students. And with a proactive approach to monitoring international students’ experiences, fostering collaborative interactions across campus and offering educational opportunities to overcome stereotypes, universities can create a more successful international student experience while also enriching and broadening domestic students’ global engagement opportunities.