Some of the world's best students come to the U.S. and Canada to study. Despite their strong academic backgrounds, they face real challenges adapting to the university environment here. To understand challenges they face, I've spoken with hundreds of international students and their teachers. They highlight five major issues:
To succeed here, to cope with these challenges, international students need to shift gears from what worked at home. They certainly need to understand what their professor says, but they also need to formulate their own perspectives, especially in more advanced classes. For many that feels unfamiliar. For some it feels downright uncomfortable and even disrespectful to the professor.
That's why it is so important to explain our goals and our values to new international students. Professors here want students to express their own views. They want vigorous discussion, even if it means disagreeing (courteously!) with faculty and classmates.. The goal is to foster expertise, originality, and independent assessment. The sooner our students know that, the better.
International students often ask, "What's so different about university life in the U.S. and Canada? How does it compare to university life in my home country?" Let me offer a short list of answers:
Finally, international students need to understand North American standards of academic honesty. In particular, they should recognize that proper quotations and citations are essential. That's not always true in their home countries. The differences in standards can lead to serious problems for international students. What may be an innocent mistake or cultural misunderstanding can easily lead to change of plagiarism, with severe repercussions. That's why it's so important for international students to learn North American standards of academic honesty and incorporate them in their own work.
In talks with students, I cover all these issues. I explain the main differences between North American universities and those in their home countries. I pass along what I've learned from conversations with hundreds of international studentsthe challenges they've faced and the lessons they've learned. Today's international students can learn from these experiences. The better they understand the challenges, they better they can adapt to university life here and meet their own goals as students.