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How to Gather Feedback from International Students to Improve Your University’s Program

With May just around the corner, the Spring semester is about to come to a close. For your international students who started in the Fall, this may mean that their time at your university is coming to a close as well. In order to best serve future students in this program, getting students’ feedback about their experience at your institution is vital. This feedback will help you not only see where you can improve in future years, but it will also provide insight into the things you do really well so that you can continue to offer the same experiences in the future, too.

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There are several ways you can get this feedback from outgoing international students, depending on how your university wishes to gather the data. One method is to simply administer a student satisfaction/exit survey, or you could also meet in focus groups to discuss feedback in person and ask follow-up questions. Other options might be to send a questionnaire via email or offer a telephone interview to have a conversation about their experience.

No matter which method you choose to obtain their feedback, you may wish to include questions about their experience in the classroom, both with their professors and other students, as well as content within the courses they took throughout the year. You can also use this opportunity to determine how often these students utilized different resources on campus, allowing you to decide whether or not specific resources are worth maintaining or if you should perhaps promote the resources better. Allow students to provide feedback on what they would have liked as a resource that was not available as well.

Be sure to give these international students the opportunity to speak freely when providing feedback instead of just answering “yes” or “no” or selecting a numeric rating for each question. A section where they can expand on their answers (or discuss further in oral situations) is crucial to being able to learn the most about student experiences.

Once you have the information from these surveys/discussions, utilize it to continually make improvements to your international student program. Let the students know why you are collecting the data so that they know their voices are being heard and future students can benefit from this program even more in the future. Making constant improvements in this way will help your university become a premier institution for incoming students, who will be excited to study with you, knowing how much you care about their experience.

Tips for a Custom Welcome Packet for International Students

International students have a lot to prepare for before they begin their first semester at your university. Having a comprehensive welcome packet created with them in mind can truly go a long way in making them feel a little less nervous (and a little more ready!) about adjusting to life in the United States and at your institution.

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Since students will receive your university’s welcome packet while they are still in their home country, and will likely be going over certain aspects of it with their families, it can be beneficial to have certain parts of the packet translated in a dual-language format. This way, both the student and their family can review the information together in a way that helps everyone feel confident about the student traveling so far away from home. It will also solidify their decision that your university is the right place for this next adventure.

While translating the entire packet may not be necessary, here are a few sections you may consider translating before sending future welcome packets to international students:

Tips for preparing to come to the U.S. There is a lot that goes into preparing for international travel and study. From visas, to travel tips about U.S. airlines, which documents the student will need upon reaching a port of entry, to even whether or not his or her mobile phone will still work here, there are so many factors to consider. Many students may wish to review this section with their families. Having it available in their native language will make the process that much smoother.

Finances (tuition, budgets, banking). Many families may be assisting with or covering tuition costs or other monetary needs for the student. Making this information available in the family’s primary language could prove very helpful in the event the family needs to reference it in order to help the student prepare his or her finances and budget in advance.

Information on medical care and options. The health care system in the United States is quite different than in any other country. If your international students will be automatically enrolled in any type of insurance through your university, or if they need to shop for some sort of plan on their own, this is an important distinction to make and something students may also wish to review with their families before departure. This helps everyone to know that the student is safe and covered in the event of a medical emergency or simply for routine doctor’s visits. It may also be helpful to translate information regarding the different types of immunizations that may be required before the student travels to the U.S.

Providing this information in a student’s primary language can be a great start in making things just a little easier for everyone involved. Above all, though, simply having an easily accessible and specific welcome packet emailed to the student once they are accepted to your university will create a lasting impression that they are valued and welcome on your campus.

Specific Challenges for International Students and How to Overcome Them

When it comes to starting a career at a new college, all students have their own sets of challenges. International students, however, face a unique set. Not only are they beginning a new semester at an American university, but they are beginning this journey in an entirely new country. Here are a few of the challenges international students may face when they arrive on your campus.

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  • Culture shock. Coming to the United States from another country can be quite difficult for international students. They have to become accustomed to things like what foods we eat, how we dress, how to address their fellow students and professors, etc. Also, students may find themselves with more or less structure or leisure time than they would in their home countries, which can be quite an adjustment. These may seem like minor issues, but culture shock is real.
     
  • Academics. The academic world can be very different in the U.S. as well. Grades may be calculated differently here than back home, and they may not be used to the idea of having homework every day to complete after classes have finished.  There is also a larger focus on general education requirements in the U.S. than there are in other countries, so international students may be confused by having to take Gen. Ed. courses that are so far removed from what their major actually is.
     
  • Classroom structure. International students may not be used to having discussions in class, as in many countries, the professor leads lectures and students simply listen, only speaking when spoken to or asked a specific question. This means that international students may not be comfortable speaking up in classroom discussions and may need some extra encouragement to participate. Some professors may be more or less formal than what they are used to in their home country as well, meaning the student has to figure out the appropriate way to adjust to each individual class.
     
  • Language barriers. Even though international students have to pass an English proficiency exam to study in the U.S., this does not always mean adjusting to life in a completely English-speaking world will be easy. Students come to your campus from different parts of the country and will have differing accents, slang terms, and speak at different speeds.  Over time, this should get easier and easier for your international students, but there is certainly an adjustment period.
     
  • Homesickness. International students are usually excited to be here, but that does not mean they do not miss friends, family, and their way of life back home. For some, this can make the rest of the adjustments all the more difficult.

While you may not be able to necessarily relieve these issues for international students, understanding some of their unique challenges is key in being able to help them adjust to student life here in the U.S. more easily, making your university a more welcoming place for them to spend their semester. This, in turn, means that they are more likely to recommend your university to their peers back home.

How to Leverage Campus Groups to Recruit and Retain International Students at Your University

As you well know, students are looking at the schools they're going to apply to right about now. Applications will need to be submitted soon, and decisions have to be made about what school offers them the best bang for their buck. 

Some of the best academic minds, sports players and community leaders come from diverse backgrounds. That's why it's vital for universities to recruit and retain international students in a sustainable and effective way. So, while the various offices on campus are busy preparing recruitment materials and events, we have some tips on how to appeal to international students and their families.

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1. Partner with campus groups and offices that regularly reach out to international students.

Consider campus life offices, undergraduate experience initiatives, campus religious groups, graduate student organizations, sports teams, etc., and find a way to collaborate with these groups in order to provide prospective and current students with more information in their native languages. This simple gesture will show these students that your university campus leaders care about them and want them to succeed on your campus.

2. Think ahead to various student events and programs that could be excellent venues for international student involvement.

Is there a specific group on campus that welcomes students, offers food at its events, holds concerts or intramural sporting events? Reach out to these groups and offer to help host a special meal in celebration of these international students, or organize a special sports tournament these students can get involved in. Bonus points if the sporting event is one that is often played in these students' home countries!

3. Communicate on their terms.
 

This may seem like the obvious tip from a language services provider, but having documents and materials for these students in their languages is one of the most effective ways to recruit and retain international students. Make sure there is a web presence about your campus and its offerings in the languages your campus tends to hear the most. Students are constantly searching online for information and ways to get involved. If they can find it in their languages, they are much more apt to respond to your calls to action and recruitment methods. On the same note, leverage social media BIG time. If the number of Facebook users worldwide were a country, it would form the largest population in the world. Do a little research to see where these students hang out online, and prepare messages in their languages that will "speak" to them. Tip! Be careful not to use automated tools that can result in translations riddled with errors.

If you have any special announcements, social media posts or informational materials you'd like to send out to students or their parents, feel free to request a consultation with us. We'd be thrilled to help your campus further recruit and retain international students!