An appealing and distinctive feature of U.S. higher education is student affairs. While universities abroad might offer housing and some administrative support, many, if not most, U.S. colleges and universities offer a broad range of academic and social support services to promote college success.
International students tend to underutilize such services, even though they don't typically cost anything, as they are often already included in student tuition and fees. International students may not be aware that such services exist because they are not known or provided at institutions in their home countries.
Check with your university to see which of the following are offered on your campus.
1. Tutoring and writing help: There are a range of academic support services and workshops that students are welcome to attend, often at no cost. These might include individual or group tutoring and writing support.
A common challenge for international students is adapting to new academic expectations and standards, especially for those whose first language is not English.
As a professor, I've noticed that while many international students have thoughtful and interesting ideas, what they want to communicate might not translate well in a second language. In other cases, international students who are accustomed to being evaluated on rote memory might struggle with creative writing assignments.
Campus resources to help students might be found within offices called the writing center, student tutoring, academic success or another related term. Your institution may also offer ongoing workshops on time management, note-taking and other study skills and strategies, which also tend to be free unless noted otherwise.
2. Student activities: In addition to academic engagement, social engagement is also critical for college success. There are countless events and activities that provide opportunities to meet and develop relationships with domestic and other international students.
Activities might include cultural events or weeks, performances, sporting events and clubs and organizations that meet regularly. Most are free to join, while sporting events can be attended for low student pricing. Check your university calendar and student affairs websites for upcoming events and more detailed information.
3. Counseling services: Some international students may experience difficulties in their adjustment to a new country and different cultural environment. Others might feel isolated without access to family and friends back home.
Universities offer counseling for all students, including international students, in which challenges can be shared and kept confidential as long as there is no criminal activity involved.
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4. Ombudsman: Universities also tend to have an ombudsman, to whom students can go to in order to resolve conflicts and report university incidents while maintaining confidentiality.
If you experience unfair treatment, such as discrimination, sexual harassment or other unfair practices, knowing there are advocates for your rights ensures safety and peace of mind.
5. Faculty members and teaching assistants: The best way to get to know professors is by asking questions in class and attending office hours. International students may feel intimidated or insecure, particularly if English is not their first language, but they play a central role for universities seeking to internationalize.
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Most instructors tend to be understanding and sympathetic to the concerns of international students. During office hours, come prepared with specific questions, whether it be about the class material or clarification about the U.S. context. Students may also seek advice on how to succeed in class or college in general.
In my own experience as a professor, I have found that many international students tend to be quite shy and quiet in class but have much to offer in a friendlier environment where they don't have to compete with other students for attention.
I have truly enjoyed getting to know them during class but especially during my office hours and after class. In many cases, roles reversed whereby my international students were my teachers, enlightening me about their respective cultures and how the class material might relate to their home countries.
The preceding are just a few of the many ways that universities can work for you, the student. Knowing there are abundant resources, staff, programs and activities to promote student engagement will help international students make the most out of the U.S. college experience.
Sometimes the countless options might feel daunting, but noting what you need to feel secure and succeed is the place to start so you can identify where to go for support. It's out there, and there are people to help.
Jenny J. Lee is an associate professor at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at University of Arizona. Her research includes international student mobility and experiences.