Enriching the International Community
For the past six years, I have served as director of undergraduate international programs at Goizueta Business School, preparing both domestic and international students for the educational environments they will encounter while studying abroad. Prior to that, I worked for five years in the Division of Campus Life with thousands of undergraduate students, both domestic and international. International students encounter a litany of challenges: under-use of health and counseling services, overuse of academic support services, over-representation in conduct and honor code violations, clustering in specific accommodation leading to “ghettoization,” dissatisfaction with dietary choices, insufficient resources for religious observance, lower rates of engagement and leadership, not enough classroom participation, increased difficulty securing post-graduation job offers.
While some progress has been made recently to address some of these issues, every day I see opportunities to enrich the international community at Emory. What can we do, individually and collectively? We can tackle internationalization at Emory with new resources, common purpose, and intentional orchestration. Here is a list of actionable suggestions, an open memorandum to our great university.
1. Increase support services for English language mastery. While we have flourishing pockets of English as a Second Language (ESL) services on campus, we could offer additional opportunities to encourage improvement in the written and spoken English skills of our international students, the majority of whom hail from countries with vastly different grammar and syntax systems. We could use leadership and engagement activities, as well as professional development and research projects, to provide safe venues for language practice.
2. Formally explain and demonstrate American academic culture.
During my mandatory orientation for undergraduate business exchange students, I attempt to demystify the American classroom. “Faculty members care whether or not you understand the material. They expect participation. They notice absences,” I explain. In many countries, only the instructor speaks during class. In countries with Confucian cultural legacies, asking questions in class implicitly challenges the authority of the professor, who is both elder and expert.
We could make videos and presentations about American classrooms. We could hold mock classroom events to allow international students to practice the skills domestic students began learning as preschoolers. We could coach international students on how to approach faculty members during office hours.
3. Offer culturally attuned academic advice. Most of our undergraduate international population hails from China and South Korea, whose outcomes far surpass our own when it comes to science, technology, engineering, and math education. Asian international students tend to show filial piety by following parental advice rather closely. Many families of international students do not readily associate significant earnings potential with liberal arts or social sciences majors. Add to this Emory’s tuition and living costs, which international students must show as cash-on-hand to obtain visa authorization to enter the US. Taken together, these factors result in concentration of international students into several fields: science, economics, mathematics, and business.
International students deserve concrete suggestions about how to distinguish themselves among similar candidates aspiring to jobs or graduate school placements. They could benefit from culturally sensitive advice about how to select alternative majors if necessary. We could counsel international students toward professional and extracurricular activities to supplement these crucial skill sets. Domestic students with dreams of working abroad merit the same.
4. Explain work benefits for international students and the transition to employer-hosted visas. The visas held by most international students entitle them to work in the United States in fields related to their majors, both during college and immediately following. Directors of academic programs in all departments, as well as advisors, could learn more about these options. Industry function nights, career events, and alumni spotlights could emphasize ways for students to pursue international work. Of course, not all students wish to work in the United States. In light of this, subject matter experts in international affairs, ISSS, career management offices, and relevant academic departments (economics, Russian and East Asian languages and culture, and international studies, for example) could educate the Emory community about economic conditions and jobs forecasts in China, South Korea, and more.
5. Offset the cost of attendance with additional scholarship funds reserved for international students. After years of economic doldrums, cuts, and belt-tightening, devotion of special funds to support a population already well represented at Emory is no easy sell. Less than 10 percent of grants and scholarships are awarded for merit, which until 2013 was the only criterion by which international undergraduates might be evaluated for financial assistance. Recently, the Office of Undergraduate Admission announced a new scholarship program for international students that prioritizes those who might otherwise be unable to attend due to cost. We could expand this program with support for students in later years of undergraduate study and those with altered family circumstances.
6. Assist in the management of cultural dissonance, acculturation, and assimilation. Journals of psychology, international education, and student affairs are filled with questions of identity. Emory’s undergraduate internationals live these questions every day. Leave behind the old culture to embrace today’s? Hold fast to the culture of origin, despite its uneven coupling with the adopted one? Behave one way when at home and another when at school?
We could learn whether students prefer to assimilate, acculturate, or aim for biculturalism. We could listen without judgment. We could offer advice only when it is welcome. We could provide opportunities to assimilate, teaching our international undergraduates the ways of American education, culture, and business. We could capitalize on what our internationals can teach us, with culture nights, language exchanges, and more. Just as we assume a student’s gender or race might inform her experiences, we could learn to similarly consider a student’s nationality.
7. Provide culturally sensitive health, counseling, and social services.
International students are under intense pressure: away from their families, in unfamiliar circumstances, and with high stakes. It will come as no surprise that countries approach matters of mental health in vastly different ways. While the practitioners in Student Health Services are conversant with international students’ special needs, it is often “lay” people—resident assistants, faculty members, academic department and student services staffers—who first encounter student distress. We could improve our ability to recognize such distress, the various forms it takes, and how best to offer assistance. We could advocate for students who may find it difficult to voice their own concerns or needs. We could learn how to pronounce names correctly and call students by their preferred names.
8. Leverage existing resources. We have a number of higher education administration specialists among our faculty and staff ranks. Such specialists are conversant with student support and adult education research on English language learning, identity development, residential education, counseling, engagement, and much more. We also have hundreds of international undergraduates themselves. We could call upon these subject matter experts to inform and improve our practices.
Emory has a long, vibrant tradition of internationalism, starting with our first Korean graduate (Yun Chi-ho 1893C, 1908G). We have also shown great strength in planning, from acceptance of land for the Atlanta campus in 1915 to wise expenditure of the Woodruffs’ 1979 gift to our recently concluded capital campaign. Now is the time to combine these assets. Let us define how we will support, engage, educate, and inspire our international community, and then shape our vision into powerful reality.