It takes courage to leave one’s home country and move to a new place and a new culture. This is especially true for young students. Finding a new school can be difficult, and often poses a daunting task for international students and their families. Thankfully, we at the Tenney School understand some of the difficulties international students face. And we take steps to make it easier.

5 Difficulties International Students Face In School (And How To Address Them)

1. They are transitioning from one system/curriculum to another

Transitioning from one school to another can be difficult even within one country. So imagine what the transition must be like for the international student. They are not just moving from one school district to another. They are moving to a new country with an entirely different school system and entirely different curriculums. They may find themselves far ahead of their classmates in some areas and completely lost in others simply because the schools in their home country are organized differently. This problem can be solved by schools that offer more personalized instruction. When teachers meet with students one-on-one, this allows the students to “catch up” where needed and move on to advanced material where needed.

2. They are often the victims of racial discrimination. 

International students fight a daily battle, which their local classmates can never quite understand. Although many people are taking great steps to eliminate discrimination, racism is still quite widespread. In fact, fellow students may even contribute to this difficulty. This problem is difficult to address in a typical school for two reasons: 1) the professors may or may not be educated themselves about the student’s culture, and 2) much discrimination happens behind teachers’ backs. To combat this, all school staff should be well-educated and open-minded toward other cultures and should take care to treat all students alike. A smaller school may be the best choice for international students because it is far less easy for harmful things to occur behind closed doors. Because the staff-to-student ratio is more balanced, racist comments or actions will be noticed and called out by an authority.

3. They are still developing English language skills. 

Another one of the difficulties international students face is language. Society is built upon language. And moving to a new culture also means learning a new language. Many international students have a good foundation in English but are still learning the ins and outs of the language. It takes years of immersion in a language to speak it fluently, and it is unfair to expect international students to pick up everything within a few weeks. In the average classroom, however, very little thought is given to this fact. Classes continue as normal, and international students are left to fend for themselves. One-on-one classrooms, however, allow time for extra explanation to take place. This type of learning gives the student freedom to speak up when they do not understand, and provides a safe space to practice and learn.

4. They are trying to find a new friend group.

Any student, international or not, finds it intimidating to move away from old friends and develop an entirely new friend group. Other students may already know each other from last year, making it difficult to insert oneself into the clique. International students face an extra challenge because they are used to different cultural practices, clothes, jokes and idioms, food, etc. They may even be looked down upon by local students (see Number 2). This can be addressed in several ways. Firstly, teachers and staff should be welcoming and inclusive toward international students. They are leaders in the classroom, and other students will follow their lead. They should also help other students cultivate a friendly attitude towards incoming classmates. This is far easier in a smaller, more personal setting, where students can get to know just a few close friends without being overwhelmed.

5. Their abilities and cultural experiences are often under-appreciated.

International students are often exceptionally talented but do not always get the chance to show their talents. Because language often provides a barrier (especially in the first few months), many locals pass off the student as dumb or uninterested. They do not realize that the international students are actually brilliant, but do not yet have the communication skills to show off their intelligence or take in all the information. They forget to ask questions about where they came from and what they did in their home country. When students receive individuation attention, however, teachers can probe deeply into their minds, asking questions and allowing them to express themselves. This will take time and patience on both sides. But it is worth the effort.

If you would like more information about the difficulties international students face and how we help alleviate these challenges at the Tenney School, please contact us.