How can international non-native students cope with studying in an English Academic Culture at Undergraduate level?

Countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom see the influx of international students every year.  Since the US and the UK have numerous high-quality educational institutions and centers for higher learning, students across the world throng to the universities in these countries to get quality education.  As part of their qualification to enroll in these universities, the international students are required to pass English language tests along with aptitude and logical reasoning tests.  Yet many of the students who get through these tests find themselves at a disadvantage during the course of their education.  This exposes the inadequacy of these entry tests and the need for their overhaul (Koehne, 2005, p.105).  But things remaining as they are, there are certain things that the students can adopt to make their undergraduate learning experience more fruitful and less distressing.

One of the common difficulties encountered by international students is the spoken accent and nuances of English language employed by their professors and instructors.  They also have difficulties in comprehending their text books due to a lack of grasp on the nuances, subtleties and unique aspects of English grammar (Iwai, 2008, p.45). The best way to get accustomed to these would be to listen to local radio and television programs.  For example, to gain familiarity with the British accent, listening to BBC Radio or watching BBC World would be a good starting point.  In the case of the American accent, watching CNN will be helpful.  Ideally, this preparation would begin a few months before the actual starting of the course, as these channels are available all across the world and also in the Internet.  The key to this preparation is patience.  Getting familiar with a foreign accent is not going to happen overnight.  So the student must persist in this exercise for months at a stretch and eventually the results will show.  Yuko Iwai, a researcher who has conducted studies on students with English as Secondary Language (ESL) has suggested a set of four reading and comprehension techniques that will aid international students.  These four techniques could be summarized thus:

“First, students can take advantage of being aware of the purposes of reading as well as different reading strategies such as skimming, scanning, note-taking, critical reading, and using dictionaries. Second, it is valuable for students to read and understand from contexts, not depending on each word, when they read carefully. During this process, they need to think about what the main point is, what an author is saying in the text, and so on. Third, exposure to various reading experiences such as newspaper/journal articles, poetry, magazines, expository books, and narrative books is important. Lastly, it is crucial for students to be motivated to read. In order to do this, it is recommended that instructors provide topics that interest students, or provide opportunities for students to select materials and topics they would like to read by themselves”. (Iwai, 2008, p.46)

Many of the international students would have grown up in a different cultural atmosphere to that in the US or UK, or for that matter Australia.  Hence it is important for them to get acclimatized with the cultural norms they are likely to encounter in the university setting.  The research team of Yakushko et. al. has carried out extensive studies pertaining to cultural experiences of international students.  In particular, they focused on the phenomenon of ‘culture shock’, whereby the student is so overwhelmed and confused by the new culture that he/she is mentally disturbed as a result.  Further,

“international students experience adjustment difficulties (i.e., change in the level of functioning) that may be academic, social, or psychological in nature. Although these difficulties are experienced by both native-born and international students, the extant research indicates that international students may tend to experience adjustment difficulties to a greater degree than do their native-born counterparts. Among the specific psycho-emotional difficulties encountered by international students are clashes of cultural values; loss of social support systems; culture shock; feelings of inferiority; and loneliness, feeling different, and loss of identity.  International students, once they arrive on campus, are under constant pressure to acculturate.” (Yakushko et. al., 2008, p.6)

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