Supporting International Students
“I have to work twice as hard due to the huge time difference. Studying at 03.30 am in the morning does not do me any good. Along with zero interaction with my peers and faculty which I always wanted to work on as I am a huge introvert.”
An international degree is associated with giving students a competitive edge, through its benefits of interacting with a variety of different people, full cultural immersion, an opportunity to become bilingual, as well as showcasing independence, determination, and an adventurous spirit.
However, 2020 saw the international student experience take on a whole new reality. For those who were able to travel home, that also came with major downsides: the inability to travel back to their country of study, adapting to difficult time zones, not being able to access certain resources for coursework and dissertations, and coping with a feeling of hopelessness. Those that stayed on campus, were faced with long periods of isolation.
After almost 12 months of studying online for the majority of institutions, universities have managed to move to a blended online experience and begun to launch initiatives to help students make up for some of their missing in-person experiences.
Many believe they have not been integrated into the plans of their institutions or governments in the same way that domestic students have. Australian institutions have been able to welcome domestic students back on campus, and the U.S., U.K., and other regions now have roadmaps to be able to do the same. However strict border controls and the ongoing financial restrictions of traveling will mean that this reality for international students is likely to continue for some time.
International students are craving more support from their institutions to help them to be more resilient in the face of the disruption and uncertainty and still determined to realise their higher education ambitions.
We had a chat with TalkCampus user Payal. Payal is an international student, who after completing her bachelor's degree in her home country of India, decided to study for her Masters abroad in Australia.
“I decided to take up a masters course in Australia to seek all the things that I couldn’t get where I have always lived”.
Like many international students, Payal returned home at the start of the pandemic and has been struggling with studying online and in a different time zone ever since. She spoke about her struggles of early morning wake-ups to log on to classes, not being able to have face time with staff, and a turnaround of 4 days or so on any questions she has about her assignments.
“My discussion usually ends up happening on the emails, because the faculty usually sends emails at 10pm Indian time. And it takes about 3-4 days for my problem to get resolved as there is a lot of back and forth. It gives me last-minute anxiety as I have a lot of stuff that piles up”.
Payal mentioned missing the social programs put in place by her University during 2020. With Australian students in the fortunate position of being welcomed back on campus, she said this kind of support is no longer available, and she feels as though international students have been forgotten. She also spoke about how she has struggled to access support services;
“This whole situation of me not studying in Australia is a huge stress trigger for me. Even though the university provides all sorts of help for mental health or psychological help, the only problem is that all sorts of help are possible only for someone that is on campus, and not for the students such as myself that are studying remotely. So, that’s been a huge bummer for me because I could really use some support”.
She is grateful that her university launched TalkCampus in the last few months, and gave her the opportunity to explore peer support. Payal also volunteers with TalkCampus as a buddy and feels as though being able to support others has really helped her with her own anxiety and stress with her studies.
“In that way, TalkCampus really helped me”.
How to ensure clarity and stability in turbulent times
Having TalkCampus is a fantastic first step. International students are connecting globally through our platform every day. TalkCampus supports over 25 different languages giving students the option to connect in whatever language they feel most comfortable using.
These include; Swedish, Dutch, Arabic, German, Russian, Romanian, Slovak, Czech, Polish, Hindi, Korean, Odia, Bengali, Urdu, Spanish, Tswana, Afrikaans, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Welsh, French, Greek & Portuguese.
We also signpost to local services if any of your students are needing additional support.
Look at offering a diverse and inclusive social program with your student union, aimed at supporting international students both on and off-campus. Working alongside these students directly can help to provide insights for the future as to the kind of challenges these students are facing and the kind of support that is needed.
Some examples of these I have seen include ‘Global Hangouts’, virtual hangout rooms aimed at mitigating the isolating effects of lockdown by providing students with a space to come together, chat, share ideas and connect with fellow students from different countries.
Implement a comprehensive portal dedicated to international students including more help with accommodation and facilities being paid for, changes to restrictions, deferred enrolment policies, and timelines. Utilise your student unions to understand what questions students are raising.
Students may not be able to access materials or recordings in their home country, or may be studying remotely in a different time zone. These factors will have a significant impact on their ability to continue with their studies, and will potentially limit communications with their teaching staff or fellow students.
A solution is to look at ways to offer flexible contact hours for teaching staff and avoiding static, permanent slots. Likewise, offer a selection of out-of-hours student support service appointments dedicated to international students.
Record all teaching and learning materials in an accessible format, including, where possible, consideration of what content or platforms international students can and cannot access.
International students’ experiences with discrimination and racism during the coronavirus pandemic have been widely reported, particularly for students from China or East Asian countries. When campuses do reopen, international students may be returning to or entering, higher education at a time of increased harassment and hate crimes.
Implementing training around hate crime awareness for both staff and students will help to reassure students that your campus is a safe place for them to return to.
Look to disseminate information and guidance on remote learning and provide advice on which technology to use when working from home. Low-speed internet and failing V.P.N.s have been cited as huge causes of stress for students. Prioritising accessible support for students, and safety net or no detriment policies for those international students experiencing ongoing challenges with technology.