Every new student at Kent State has to adjust to a new school, but international students have to adjust to a new country while getting used to an educational system they’ve never seen before.
Kent State is home to over 1,500 international students, most of them from China, India and Saudi Arabia, according to International Students Enrolled at Kent State University provided by Jef Davis, associate director for International Student and Scholar Services.
“When I first got on campus, like my initial thought was I was terribly scared cause it was a whole new environment,” said Janki Desai, a junior biology major.
The entire admissions process, similar to the one domestic students use with the addition of an English language proficiency exam, is done online, and many students will not physically see the campus until they arrive for orientation.
“Before I got here, they sent me a packet," Desai said. “And that packet consisted of different events that were going to happen during like orientation week … a packet about like financial and how to process my tuition and scholarships.”
One of the major problems international students face when they first arrive at the university is the culture shock of the American classroom, Davis said.
To aid with the transition into the American classroom, students can attend a mock classroom during their orientation to get an understanding of what to expect before classes start.
“It's not full a class period, so they try and cram in a lot of the experiences a student will have in their first classes, including assignments, group work, the amount of reading you have to do on your own, the frequent testing and the quizzing that we do in the U.S.,” Davis said.
The mock classes are led by Joseph Underwood, assistant art professor, and Edgar Kooijman, associate professor in biological sciences.
“I clue them in about the U.S. class culture — for example, the professors want you to answer the question,” Underwood said.
Both Underwood and Kooijman were international students and understand what they are going through.
“I think it's really important to talk to them and give them an idea of what it is like to study here in the U.S. because most of them don't have a clue,” Kooijman said.
The class is meant to give students an idea of what a lecture will look like once classes start. The professors will introduce the typical structure of a lecture and give them an example by presenting their research to the class. At the end, students have the opportunity to ask any questions they may have about the classroom culture.
“I think people were generally excited,” Underwood said. “It took a minute for people to warm up and start volunteering information.”
International students also have access to Kent State's Global Ambassadors, who can help them throughout the semester with anything they need.
“The main focus (of Global Ambassadors) is when new international students come in, we help them in any way,” said Anton Dias, a Global Ambassador of Kent State.
Global Ambassadors are introduced to the students during their orientation, and students can sign up for a mentor to meet with throughout the semester.
If students have questions throughout the school year, they can go to the Office of Global Education.
“We've all had international experiences ourselves. We know what it feels like to be a fish out of water,” Davis said.
While the OGE acts as a place for students to ask any questions, Davis said that might not have all the answers.
“My first semester here was actually pretty hard for me because I genuinely didn't know how to register classes or how credit systems worked,” Desai said.
The OGE offers advisors for students, but they are not required to speak with these advisors, unlike their academic advisors, which every student must meet with in order to schedule their classes.
“I was not aware that there could be someone who can advise me through the process and can help me step by step,” Desai said.
While Kent State offers many resources for international students to help with their transition, professors can also help make the transition go smoothly.
In 2015, Kent State launched a program to help faculty connect with international students and integrate their cultures into the classroom.
The Intercultural Faculty Scholars Cohort is made up of 12 nominated faculty members. The members attend eight sessions throughout the semester to gain a better understanding of the potential conflict between the learning styles of international students and learn other ways to enhance their teaching practices and assessment strategies.
“Rather than thinking necessarily about what you need to teach as a professor, you can think about what's going to help students learn,” said Martha Merrill, coordinator of the International Education Certificate.
Many international students who come to Kent State are used to not asking questions in class, Merrill said.
“It's considered really rude for a student to ask a question because that suggests that the professor didn't explain things well enough,” Merrill said.
This program is designed to help faculty members understand the classroom culture international students are used to and give them the tools they need to create a safe environment for these students.
“The first thing that that I do in teaching faculty is to get people to think about attribution,” Merrill said.
When an international student is quiet in class the professor might think initially that there is a language barrier, Merrill said, but if the professor had knowledge in intercultural communications they would then realize that the student thinks it is rude to speak in class.
For faculty members who are not able to participate in the Intercultural Faculty Scholars Cohort, Merrill suggests faculty do some general reading regarding those cultures and think of multiple explanations for concepts.
“We have a lot of international students who come through a great deal to get here,” Merrill said. “We really need to do everything we can to assure their success.”
Contact Katie Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.