How Educators Can Best Support International Students

As the world continues to globalize, Getting Smart believes that it will become even more important for students to have the skills to empathize, work and live with people from different cultures. Here, we share insights from Craig Pines on what schools can do to help international students succeed in their new environments.

By Craig Pines

More and more international students are coming to America to attend high school. However, once they arrive, these students need much more than just academic support. They need to feel comfortable and at home in their new city to be able to learn at their full potential.

How can international students possibly learn to the best of their ability when they’re concerned about their English-speaking ability, don’t know to find the grocery store or items from home they are accustomed to, or are intimidated by the prospect of making new American friends.

Educators must invest in the entire life experience of international students to create inclusive, connected, globally minded school communities.

Here are a few ways educators can support arriving international students, and their American classmates, to ensure they thrive both in and outside the classroom.

Acclimate your domestic student body with unfamiliar cultures: While you’re busy preparing for international students to arrive, it’s easy to forget you should prepare your current student body as well. To start, teachers or administrators should share basic information about where international students are from and why they (or their families) chose to come to the United States. Address any questions or concerns your students might have, and teach them something new about a different culture every day (for example, in China, students remain with the same cohort of 60 students throughout their entire high school experience, and are expected to be seated in the classroom 30 minutes before the first bell).

A formal student ambassador program is also a good idea. Having a U.S.-based student reach out to an international student via email or Skype helps both students learn about each other and enables international students to make a friend on campus before they arrive. During their conversations, domestic students can address any concerns the international students have about the American classroom, expectations of school, or general life in America. Ideally, the students will meet in person when the international student first arrives in the U.S., and should be encouraged to continue their communication and friendship throughout the school year.

It’s also important to provide opportunities for structured interaction with American students in order to facilitate situations that can help students develop social bonds. For example, require students to participate in at least one extracurricular club, sport or event (like a school play) each semester to ensure interaction with other students and encourage a feeling of inclusion within the community.

Begin college guidance as early as possible: International students – and domestic ones as well, for that matter – need comprehensive support and oversight of both standardized test preparation and university selection and application preparation to familiarize students with American universities and potential academic and career opportunities. Many employers already find new college grads aren’t ready for the workplace, so it’s important to build a strong foundation for critical thinking, attention to detail, writing proficiency and public speaking at an early age.

Provide ELL support: Mastering the English language can be one of the most challenging hurdles for international students. Student achievement relies significantly on an ability to listen, speak, read and write in the English language at an advanced level. If possible, hire an English Language Learning (ELL) instructor who can work with students in the classroom, after school, and even on weekends. If that’s not possible, create a learning space that is accessible 24/7 with resources that provide tailored support to ensure that every moment of a student’s experience is an opportunity to build fluency and comprehension.

Identify service-based learning projects: A service-based learning project provides a direct connection to where you live and helps international students become more familiar with their American community. It also provides an opportunity for students to develop leadership skills in global citizenship. These programs can range in focus and scope: from environmental service at an organic farm to a fundraising project for a local charitable organization to language-based mentorship programs to aid younger English learners.

Schedule weekend trips and excursions: The most successful students are happy, healthy, and well-supported. The success of an international program should be measured by the student’s ability to thrive through an academic experience and within a balanced, comfortable and enriching life outside of the classroom. Plan a wide array of weekend activities, including sports viewings, off-site and immersion trips, community service, and various other American cultural celebrations.

The barriers to a great education for international students are not always found in the classroom, and a school must be fully committed to providing a nurturing environment for international students. While the path to a global education can require time and energy, international student programs help not only the international students, but their local classmates prepare for the global world they will soon find in college and beyond.

For more, see:

Craig Pines is the CEO of Amerigo Education. Connect with them on Twitter: @AmerigoEdu. 

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