Support incoming international students with academic acclimation workshops

April 16, 2020
  • International Admissions
  • International Admissions and Credential Evaluation
  • AACRAO Essentials
diverse group of students sitting around a table

by Mark Moore, MEd, Graduate Admissions Specialist - International, The Graduate College,  Texas State University

We, as institutions, ask a lot of our incoming international students. It's a daunting prospect to travel across the world to study, facing barriers of new languages, new cultures, and new academic expectations — alone. And we ask students to overcome those barriers from the moment they step on campus.

By creating programming to ease the transition we can help them succeed and flourish in their classrooms while bringing with them the value of their unique perspectives. Good programming shows students we care about their success beyond admission and provides them with a beginner toolset to embark on their challenging journey.

Recognize student challenges

National polls, trends, and essays like those in U.S. News, IIE, WES, and C&U are a great way to get a macro perspective on what challenges international students are facing nationally. It’s important to be aware of these and refer back to them often. 

On a more micro level, consider a survey of current students and alumni. Keep in mind that while there is overlap between international and domestic student needs, there are also unique problems facing international students. Direct questions about the challenges incoming international students face and where they’ve found a dearth of support can be key to formatting your programming.
 
Take stock of what you offer
 

The breadth of your exploration here will vary widely based on how your university is configured. It may be as simple as walking across the hall or as complicated as uncovering events and programs all across campus. Each university’s resources and how they choose to allocate them will vary so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this.

Look for overlap. Is there an international student orientation? What about program orientations? Do any of those cover the same material? If so, could a workshop piggyback off of those or skip that content? Are there student associations that have taken it upon themselves to organize their own acclimation programs?

You might be surprised at what support is already available on your campus. You may find it more beneficial to highlight or expand what you already have rather than create something new.

Academic Success Workshop at Texas State University
 

The Academic Success Workshop at Texas State University is still in its nascent stages. We first conducted our first workshop during the Fall semester of 2018. It was a joint project between the Graduate College and International Student and Scholar Services. We have held it again in Spring 2019, Fall 2019, and plan to hold it in Fall 2020.

Structure

Our program is broken into three main parts with an introduction from one of our deans. 

- The first part is an informative presentation on academic etiquette. It consists of academic integrity (plagiarism and cheating), participation, attendance, and proper communication with faculty and staff. We also include short activities to break up the monotony such as identifying plagiarism and breaking down an unacceptable e-mail example.

-  The middle of our program is another short informative presentation but from a different perspective. This is put on by one of our current international students and focuses on culture shock. We’ve given our students a lot of flexibility in this portion to make the presentation their own.

-  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we end with a panel. The panel has gone through some changes with each iteration of the workshop but we’ve consistently sought out both students and faculty. Our panel is moderated with commonly asked questions for each student and faculty member to answer, followed by an open Q&A session with the new students in attendance.

We continue to refine the workshop as we receive ongoing input from the participants and discover what seems the most pertinent and helpful to them.

Reception

Anecdotal evidence and response surveys have suggested that students have greatly appreciated the workshop. Attendees have mentioned specifically the student-led presentation on culture shock and the Q&A with the panel to be the most helpful. Overall, the entire program has received high marks from attendees and from participants. A welcome surprise has been the positive reception and eagerness faculty and current students have shown to be part of the panel. 

Challenges

The biggest challenge we’ve faced so far is the dichotomy between Fall and Spring admission terms. For the fall, as expected, the attendance warrants an in-person workshop and the costs that go along with it. Spring has been a harder sell with a smaller pool of students. We’ve adapted to this by opening up the Fall session to incoming students from prior semesters as well. We’ve also considered a webinar for the Spring term.