Teaching and learning with a population of international students can be an extremely rewarding experience for faculty and all students in the classroom. International students encounter academic and personal barriers when pursuing their studies, just like domestic students. However, in addition to the traditional issues faced by many domestic students, international students are often adjusting to some additional circumstances:
- Adjusting to a completely new education system
- Reading, writing, public speaking, and taking tests in another language
- Experiencing the shock of a new culture
- Living without the support of family or close friends
- Feeling the pressure of US immigration regulations (which are often changing these days)
Primarily, the students served by the Coordinator of International Services at MCC are those studying in the United States on an F-1 student visa. They have a specific set of immigration restrictions and benefits associated with their F-1 status.
F-1 international students are extremely diverse. In 2019-2020, we have students from six continents attending MCC! English may be their first and only language, or it may be the fifth language they are learning. MCC may be their first school in the United States, or they may have studied in the U.S. for high school or at another college.
MCC also has a number of enrolled students who are living and studying in the United States on other non-immigrant visa types. Sometimes, these students seek help or advisement from the Coordinator of International Services or from the Cross-Cultural Counselor, Don Beech.
In addition, MCC has many hundreds of "new American" students; those who are immigrants, refugees, or asylum-seekers living in Rochester. These students are often assisted by the Cross-Cultural Counselor.
All of these student populations may consider themselves to be "international" and add to the rich diversity of MCC. You will absolutely have them in your classroom!
Demonstration of English language proficiency is required of all international students to attend MCC. Various tests and methods can be used. Depending on their country of origin, English may be an international student's native language or it may be one of several languages they know or are still learning.
Some international students may be enrolled in an ESOL course alongside their academic courses to build their English language skills and better prepare them for ENG 101. The ESOL Department created a great booklet titled "ESOL Resources for Faculty & Staff" with many tips for working with students who are non-native English speakers or who may be new to American culture. These booklets are available for pickup in the ESOL Department Office or from the Cross-Cultural Counselor.
A few tips when speaking with non-native English speakers:
- Don't speak louder. Do speak a little slower than "normal American" pace, but still speak naturally.
- Give the student time to process what you have said before expecting a response. Do not immediately repeat (or rephrase) what you have just said.
- Listen closely and don't interrupt. English language learners have often thought through exactly what they want to say. Allow them to first get through this script so they feel certain you have heard what they have to say.
- Use simple language and simplify sentence structure in both speaking to students and in writing emails or syllabi. Instead of: "In order to receive full credit for assignments, you must turn them in by the due date listed on the course information sheet, or else I will deduct late points." Try simple: "All assignments are listed on the course calendar. Late assignments lost points."
- Be clear, concise, and direct with language and direction. Avoid the use of modal words like "could, may, might, should, would, ought to" in your communication.
- Avoid the use of acronyms, abbreviations, idioms and slang terms such as "ASAP" or "all set." These kinds of terms are not only dependent on strong knowledge of English language but also of American culture.
- Check for understanding. After discussing an issue or explaining a procedure, ask the student to explain it back in their own words or write a short list of steps. Don't just ask the student if he or she understood everything you said.
As faculty members, you should always refer all F-1 international students to work with International Services on immigration matters. However, having a basic understanding of the F-1 visa rules during academic advising can be helpful. Here are some main points:
- Full-time enrollment is required during the semester (minimum 12 credit hours)
- F-1 students require approval from International Services before dropping below 12 credits. Dropping below full-time is only permitted in certain circumstances, and cannot always be approved. Do not encourage an international student to drop or withdraw a course if it will put them below full time. Encourage them to meet with International Services first!
- F-1 students must register in at least 9 credits of in-person courses before registering for any online courses. Only 1 online course may count toward the 12-credit full-time course load.
- F-1 students are not eligible for federal or state financial aid. Therefore, financial aid eligibility does not need to be considered when selecting courses for registration. Students can repeat courses, take courses outside of their program, etc. without fear of financial aid repercussions.
- Employment is generally limited to on-campus employers only, and 20 hours per week when school is in session. F-1 students are not eligible for federal work study positions.
International students will come from a multitude of different cultures from around the world, so there is no complete cultural "cheat sheet." However, there are things that faculty can do as teachers to make sure that culture does not impact learning in a negative way. Most of these examples come from the booklet "ESOL Resources for Faculty & Staff" which you can access from the ESOL Department or the Cross-Cultural Counselor.
- Learn to say the names of international students correctly, and ask what name they would like to be called in your class. It may be a very different name than appears on your roster.
- Tell students what you would like to be called in class. Different cultures address teachers in many different ways.
- Take the time to learn a little about your students' countries of origin, customs, languages, and the larger issues of concern in their home countries-- like current events or natural disasters that may impact their families.
- Be explicit about when assignments may be redone and if/when extra credit is available. Grade negotiating in some cultures is very common and even expected, and is not considered rude or manipulative.
- Assign group roles or establish rules of turn-taking for group work or for class discussion. Students from collective cultures (especially those in Asia) may not speak up unless asked, or until every other person is quiet.
- Provide periodic grade review so that students know where they stand in your class and what they need to improve moving forward in the semester. In some cultures, grades are given based on status or relationship with the teacher, and are not completely based on individual student performance on assignments.
- Offer to make scheduled appointments during your office hours, rather than just telling them the time and encouraging them to come in. Most international students will not come into office hours without an appointment, because they feel it imposes on the teacher and it is not common practice in many countries.
- If a student plagiarizes, do not assume it was intentional. Plagiarism is a cultural concept and the way that ideas are cited (or not) varies across cultures. Consider that the first incident may be an opportunity to educate the student, instead of seeking immediate disciplinary action.
- Rethink what is "common knowledge" on test questions or in lectures
- Be aware of non-verbal cues. They are very different across cultures. For example, students from parts of South Asia (India and Pakistan) shake their heads to express "yes" or understanding, instead of nodding like we do in the U.S.
- Don't assume that all students from a particular country or culture will behave or respond the same way. Likewise, do not expect a student to know what everyone in his her country thinks about a particular topic. Perspectives will vary by region, group, and individual, just as perspectives vary amongst Americans.
- Remember that sometimes behavior is indeed personal, not cultural. If a student is displaying behavior that is unusual, worrisome, disruptive, or disturbing, please seek advice from resources or experts at MCC such as International Services, the Cross-Cultural Counselor, Counseling Center, Student Rights & Responsibilities, or the Chief Diversity Officer.