International students: what problems do they face during their school life in the U.S.?
The United States has always been called the “mixing pot of diverse cultures” and has remained, for many years, the top global destination for international students. Just the past 2019-2020 academic year, the U.S. hosted more than one million international students, with China contributing the largest share of 34.6 percent of international students to U.S. institutions. Due to almost a third of the international student population being comprised of Chinese students, they have a significant impact on the U.S. economy and its educational institutions.
However, despite the cost of moving to a foreign country, leaving their family and loved ones, and paying hefty amounts of tuition to secure their educational opportunities in the U.S., many of their experiences are dulled by the lack of support and resources in their new environment. The difficulty in adjusting to a very different culture creates both social and academic stress that negatively impact their well-being, leading to issues such as decreased motivation and mental health.
Digging deeper into the adaptation of international students to their American environment, we find that numerous factors contribute to two significant challenges they face during this process: academic and social stress. As Chinese students enroll in American institutions, they experience a radical change in the educational systems. American education demands a relatively more active presence in the classroom and frequently challenges students to apply critical thinking, to which some Chinese students may find different and uncomfortable. In addition, Chinese students may experience language difficulties that further discourage them from reaching out to faculty/school services and making friends of different nationalities. Those factors contribute to accumulative academic stress, which in turn results in impaired performance and mental health. Aside from academic stress, the sudden loss of familiar relationships, cultural shock, perceived discrimination against international students, and homesickness can induce social stress on international students.
Studies have found that social adjustment associates negatively with academic performance. This means that international students have to fight this endless loophole of academic and social stress, which is very detrimental to their well-being.
Despite the challenges that international students face in the U.S., many of the institutions surprisingly lack an efficient system that assists students in this transition. Whether it’s due to the lack of professional guidelines to meet their needs, or the lack of institutional awareness of those challenges( language and social barriers often discourage communication between the school and international students, resulting in few voiced opinions), there should be a well-organized, professional system that guides the students in adjusting and thriving in their new environment.
Figure: How International Students Say Their Institutions Can Improve Support
So, what can we do to improve this situation?
By making a huge platform specifically dedicated to Chinese international students, they will be able to access social and academic resources that they weren’t aware of. Through this platform, they can connect to other international students and gain valuable advice from older, experienced international students from not only their school, but within their preferred range of geographical location. And most importantly, I want this platform to generate a strong sense of community and belonging within international students. When you feel lost and confused about your cultural identity, this is the place where you don’t have to confine yourself to just one cultural tag. When you wish that your parents were with you to provide professional network and advice, this is the platform you can visit to help you find local resources such as internship opportunities and valuable insights from people who have been in the same shoes. And of course, when you’re missing your cultural food or feeling lonely due to lack of meaningful connections, this is the safe space you can turn to for comfort and a large network of individuals who are more than eager to bond over shared experiences.
You may be wondering: that sounds wonderful and all, but how do we achieve all of that?
We can start with one small step, and take a second small step, then a third one, fourth one, fifth one.. until we finally build a supportive community that helps international students thrive together. And even then, we will continue to take steps, because struggles never end.
So, here is my attempt for the first small step:
- If you were inspired by this post and want to suggest resources, such as student or local organizations near you that provide academic, social, and extracurricular opportunities, or online communities that provide guidance to international students, please submit them into this link: https://forms.gle/6DwXAPBCiFEvMQzf7
- If you are an international student would like to offer valuable insights, head to this link: https://forms.gle/orLS1WkGfnHLm8rK9
- If you want to contribute to further data collection: https://forms.gle/2rqc8wZSnuAHHZrKA
- For further reference, here is the current Business Model Canvas for the organization: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_miYNV-fdNvrL-UlkG_xwPO8kI8Hu2jaJeNRYi_VPLM/edit?usp=sharing)
As an international student who has transitioned back and forth between China and the U.S., I hope we can unite together and form a powerful platform that helps create a healthier, positive, and more enriched experience for all of us.