International Student's Challenge and Adjustment to College - Expository Essay

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While writing my profile essay on the University of Montana International Student Association to find out the challenges faced by international students, I discovered that most of these students face a lot of challenges when they move away thousands of miles from their home country to study here at the University of Montana. Many face challenges from social (unfamiliar living circumstances), academic (learning style) to cultural (language, culture, and personal barriers) issues. Some students adapt easily to live here in Missoula while others experience difficulties. I began to wonder if these problems faced by international students here at the University of Montana are the same as compared to other international students throughout the United States (US). Furthermore, why is it that some students from certain parts of the world adapt to US culture differently? It has also been observed that most of these international students associate with their fellow international students, but why is the case. The truth of the matter is that international students experience a lot of challenges and difficulties in adjusting to the college environment. This is evidenced in most of the online journals, research articles, blogs, and newspapers that I have interacted with recently. These sources clearly show that most of this information shows that international students face different challenges when adapting to live here in the US. It is evidenced that the place where these students originate from and the countries they study from is a major contributor to these challenges, and many were related to cultural, lifestyle differences, language, communication, and making friends.

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The benefits that international students bring to the United States have amplified the challenges and difficulties they face in adjusting to college life to be explored in the broader perspective. According to the Open Doors Report released in 2015, 974,926 students were reported to have come to the US to study in over a thousand colleges and universities across 50 States in 2015. These students contribute to a diversified and internationalized society ranging from classrooms, campuses, and communities. The essay tries to focus on academic, social, and cultural challenges faced by international students while undertaking their studies in the US. The essay will also focus on why students from different regions (Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, Australia, etc.) adapt to US culture differently. Lastly, the essay will shed some light on why International students mostly associate with other international students instead of associating with American students.

Why Are Assessments a Problem for International Students in the US?

Many people contend that international students are not used to assessments such as writing a research paper and citing sources and they have a difficult time undertaking these assessments. This is evidenced in most colleges and universities here in the US, your courses will most likely be graded in many ways, such as in a test, class participation, and writing papers. The educational curriculum found in countries where most of these international students come from is different from that of the US. This may be one of the contributing factors when it comes to assessments in our universities. For example, a student like Vuk Bojovic from Serbia studying in Illinois wrote that "When I first came here, I had a problem with research papers, as I have never written them in high school in Serbia, I was not familiar with the structure of a paper as well as academic resources and citations. It took me a whole term to work both on my own and with people in the Reading-Writing Center to get a good grade on a paper" (Wilton and Constantine )

Secondly, it is believed that most of these students struggle in class participation assessment. Many college professors here in the US want to learn to be a collaborative experience and they encourage participation from students both in class and during office hours. According to Lee and Rice (2007), most of these International students use English as their second language and it's really hard for them to participate in class discussions. In fact, some have difficulty putting their thoughts into English and participating at the same time, others are too shy to speak up, whereas others don't understand what their peers are discussing because they talk too fast for them to understand. "American English relies heavily on the use of phrases and idioms. Oftentimes, the meaning of phrases and idioms are not obvious and sometimes could deviate totally from their root words. Also, some phrases and idioms are used commonly in spoken English only, not in writing. As a result, students with little exposure to these phrases and idioms would find them particularly difficult to comprehend. "An international student is likely to be misled by Give me a ring,' for example, especially if Call me' is more accurate and appropriate" The students from the United States and the community that interact with these students are finding it hard to associate with

How to Deal With Culture Shock as an International Student?

The essay aimed at focusing on why international students from different parts of the world react differently to the US culture. This can be a result of the culture shock experienced by the students the moment they land in the United States. We Americans are action, goal-oriented and individualistic while these students from different cultures always appear group-oriented. According to some Americans, they say that being friendly is an action of an individual. On the other hand, international students may be searching for someone with whom they can befriend and develop a long-lasting relationship. This clearly shows that in some of the cultures that these students come from, friendship is taken as more superficial. For example, "how are you?" is basically a greeting and should not lead into a long conversation that ends up asking how somebody is feeling. It is weird to see an international student stopping with an intention of continuing the discussion only to realize the American student is already gone. According to Lee and Rice (2007), by the time the international students come to the US, they discover that they need to look for new ways to be accommodated into the new culture. However, the culture shock that affects the way they perceive things and thus becomes impossible at the beginning. He further states that the way individuals speak to their seniors in the United States is different from the way these students speak to their elders in their countries. In the United States, it is basically normal to refer to elders as "Sir, Miss, and Mrs" but for those people who come from a collective culture, their elders are referred to as father and mother and it is a must to honor them. It is so unfortunate that when international students land in the United States, everything that they used to know, for example, the way they speak to their elders, becomes useless. Whereas the United States population is not taking this matter so seriously since according to them, these students are temporary in the US and leave anytime.

Secondly, food has been one of the reasons why these students react differently to our culture. I think food may seem to be a minor thing to complain about in a country that offers so many ethnic food options, but for international student's familiar food has a comforting effect on them. Food reminds them of home, parties, and holidays with their families. Baier (2005) speculated that students living in ethnic and cultural communities have a more difficult time accepting the American culture and food because they practice in their home culture with other people from their home countries, such as having food from home frequently. She concluded that due to this experience, international students only socialize within themselves; they may not try as hard to become adjusted to US culture. Whereas Baier’s (2005) study showed that students from western countries that are characterized by individualistic features and have more in common with the US culture have fewer problems adjusting to the US culture than their non-western peers. She reported that Non-western students expressed repeatedly that it was hard for them to get used to the fast-paced busy American lifestyle and they often sacrificed opportunities for social interactions. An Arabic student commented that free time in their home countries is often used for socializing with family and friends and not for activities that require scheduling. Other students from collectivist cultures such as China, Korea, and Japan express discomfort and experience individualizing features of the American lifestyle As the ongoing conversation goes, food is just food and the US food is one of the best and hence they should stop dragging it into their culture.

The last bit of this essay was to focus on why international students associate with fellow students rather than the students of the United States. These students from different countries who are entering a new culture may feel constrained to look for ethnic communities, in which they are able to leave their home culture, not attempting to be part of the host culture. The students may feel like if he associates with most of the American students, they can manipulate them. For example, Hsiao-ping et al (2015) conducted a study to find out whether language influenced international students networking with other American students, the results revealed that students with English as a primary language have stronger social support networks than those who had studied English as a second language. He emphasized that students originated from countries that were colonized by Great Britain such as Australia and New Zealand during the colonial times. They might have different accents, but they are fluent in English, this makes them an advantage for them in making connections with other students including American students. On the other hand, students from other regions show that they socialized, but only with other international students. It is hard for them to start conversations or approach people, they suggested that this is why most international students are more likely to make contact with international students and only have a few American friends. These students may feel inferior to American students because of their language and communication barriers and, therefore, socialize with those who have a similar experience communicating.


To conclude, the essay has focused more on the challenges that most international students face. This should be a great opportunity where more study should be done on the ways that can be used to reduce the challenges faced by these students.

Work Cited

Baier, Stefanie Theresia, "International Students: Culture Shock and Adaptation to U.S. Culture" (2005). Master's Theses and Doctoral Dissertations. Paper 523. Web. 3rd March 2016.

Willie J., and Jerlando FL Jackson. "Understanding the collegiate experience for Asian international students at a Midwestern Research University." College Student Journal 37.3 (2003): 379-392. Web. Friday 10th March

Hopkins. Katy, 6 Challenges for International Students in College, US News, 28 August 2012. Web. 2nd March 2016.

Hsiao-ping Wu, Esther Garza, and Norma Guzman, International Students Challenge and Adjustment to College, Education Research International, vol. 2015, Article ID 202753, 9 pages, 2015. Web.

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