Wright State reaches out to surge of international students

Wright State students Eiman bin Ali Al Housani of the United Arab Emirates (left), Balasubramanian Gunasekaran of India and Nelly Cherviyot of Kenya served on the panel for a campus session on international students.

Wright State is poised to reap huge benefits from its popularity with international students, whose numbers have increased by 40 percent this fall to 1,489.

Foreign students help build bridges of understanding and goodwill between nations, foster partnerships with foreign institutions, serve as models for the study of foreign languages, help internationalize U.S. students and curricula, and provide universities with a source of revenue and prestige abroad

However, the students often face challenges in adjusting to American academic and cultural life.

On Sept. 10, Wright State held a seminar at Dunbar Library designed to explore issues facing international students and come up with ways to help them. The seminar attracted students, faculty and staff and featured a panel discussion with three international students—Eiman bin Ali Al Housani of the United Arab Emirates, Nelly Cheruiyot of Kenya and Balasubramanian Gunasekaranof India.

“The number of international students coming to the United States is growing by leaps and bounds,” said Jeanne Ballantine, Ph.D., professor emeritus of sociology, who led the seminar.

There were 764,495 international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities in 2010–11. The largest number—22 percent—were from China. At Wright State, the largest single group of international students are from Saudi Arabia, followed by India and China. A majority of the international students at Wright State are studying engineering or business.

Ballantine said that among the challenges for international students is dealing with students and teachers who speak “American” English and often with a dialect. Foreign students sometimes have trouble communicating verbally even though they may have very sharp English writing skills.

In addition, there can be academic differences. For example, Ballantine said, one student from Serbia attending Wright State had no preparation or understanding of how to write a research paper.

Laura M. Johnson, academic advisor for Wright State’s Boonshoft School of Medicine, said time management could also be an issue for incoming foreign students.

“The first course for the first-year medical student is human structure. It takes a lot of time and due diligence,” Johnson said. Most students think they can use the same study strategies as in graduate school. They’re thinking, “I can cram on the weekends,” but there is too much information for that. Medical school demands a student practice good study and time management skills, diligence, professionalism and strong work ethics.”

There can also be a cultural chasm.

In some foreign cultures, students don’t make eye contact with their teachers, considering them to be their superiors rather than their partners. That can lead American teachers to think the student is uninterested or disrespectful.

In addition, some foreign students have to wrestle with tests being given on their religious holidays.

Many foreign students have no social support network and have to battle isolation. To cope, some seek out supportive people and observe and imitate behaviors.

But students facing health, family or other personal problems may not seek professional help because they feel there is a stigma attached to that.

To help international students adjust, Wright State’s Center for International Education helps them find housing, educates them on the use of campus facilities, facilitates meetings with domestic students and even meets new international students at the airport when they first arrive.

The university’s Department of English Language and Literatures offers myriad opportunities to students interested in learning English as a second language and teaching it.

A large group of students is served by the non-credit Learning English for Academic and Professional Purposes, or LEAP. With 170 students currently enrolled, LEAP provides full-time intensive English instruction and helps non-native speakers develop the linguistic, academic and social skills they need to be successful at an American university.

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