Supporting a Diverse International Student Community

U.S. campuses have become increasingly international - according to the Institute of International Education (IIE, 2018), there has been a 47% increase in the number of international students studying in U.S. colleges and universities over the past ten years. At Brown, international student enrollment has increased by 56% between 2008-17 (Brown Office of Institutional Research). The composition of this group is incredibly diverse -- the top three represented countries are  China, India, and Canada, with over 125 countries represented across the entire international community. Welcoming talented students from around the world is important to creating a diverse community at Brown, but the inclusion of these students into the fabric of Brown is equally significant because such efforts support our Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion plan and maintain the vibrancy of our teaching and learning communities.

When considering inclusive teaching practices, Beatriz de Arruda, a senior from Brazil studying Neuroscience and Engineering, emphasizes how economic, political, and social changes deeply impact international students at Brown -- highlighting factors like changing currency exchange rates and concerns about family. Below, Beatriz describes how recent political turmoil in her home country was affecting her preparation for an exam.

I explained the situation to the professor and he was very supportive. This was the first time that I asked for accommodations due to the political climate in my home country, and I am so glad about the professor's response. I believe the international community benefits a lot from practices in inclusive teaching. It means a lot to the students when professors try to be aware of those issues around the world, acknowledge them when possible, are open to hearing about them, and provide appropriate accommodations when students reach out.

-Beatriz de Arruda, senior

Beatriz suggests that when faculty acknowledge student concerns and show empathy, it can make a big impact on international students’ academic and personal well-being.

Recent surveys of international students show that recognition of students’ international identities by peers, faculty, and staff is something that students wish to see more of at Brown. Getting to know your students through early semester surveys and introductory activities can help instructors note where students call home. In the event of a crisis in an international student’s home country, send a simple email or quickly check in after class when possible. For example, “I read about the recent typhoon in your home country and want you to know I have been thinking about you,” can make an impact on students feeling supported. This newsletter highlights additional classroom strategies that faculty and TAs can use to promote a culture of global inclusion, relying on surveys of faculty (Jin & Schneider, 2017) and surveys and focus groups of international students (Harris, Helms, & Deardorff, 2017).

Adapting communication styles to be on the “same page”

Many faculty report that it is helpful to adapt their communication approaches to support international students (Jin & Schneider, 2017). This is important because norms and expectations for communication and the responsibilities and roles of instructors and learners vary greatly across cultures. Adam Sullivan, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics in Brown’s School of Public Health, describes below how he carefully structures his course requirements and expectations.

We can overcome a lot of difficulties for students based on how we set up our courses, how we define expectations, office hours, and clearly stating directions.

-Adam Sullivan, Biostatistics faculty

Jiawei Wen, an international undergraduate from China studying Comparative Literature, recounts that when they started at Brown, it was particularly helpful when professors explained the purpose of office hours, encouraged students to use them, and then took the time to explain course content in different ways during office hours. In addition, it can be helpful to clarify how and when students should ask questions, and establish expectations for collaboration and group work. You may also consider when it is appropriate to unpack language use, such as explaining certain uses of humor, irony, or idiomatic language. Adam Sullivan thinks about this when preparing lectures and makes note of  “a simple common phrase in English that does not translate well or a reference to a popular American television show that our international students would never catch. [This is] quite isolating for those who do not understand.” Common academic idioms such as “in a nutshell” or “take a swing at it” are not easily translatable across languages. Taking time to explain language and references, or use multiple, varied examples will benefit all students and ensure that everyone is (to use another common English idiom) “on the same page.”

Communication cues during classroom dialogue are also important. Professors can help support multilingual students by summarizing or recapping ideas after each student contributes a comment or asks questions. Jiawei Wen notes, “This can help when students speak quickly or use vocabulary that may be new to some students. Or even if you’re sitting far back in the class.” Jiawei explains that not only does this repetition help with listening comprehension, but also in finding connections between ideas and noting important themes. In addition, reminders for all students to slow down or invite other perspectives into the conversation helps with equitable contributions in class. Other strategies to encourage equitable participation include developing guidelines for participation and articulating how participation will be evaluated.

Cultivating the instructor-student relationship

Instructor-student relationships are critically important for all students’ success. However, for international students, in particular, positive relationships are also associated with their propensity to feel confident in participating and engaging in an English-speaking class, which is important for improving their learning (Hsu & Huang, 2017). Use of student names is a frequently used and effective strategy for developing rapport (Cooper, Haney, Krieg, & Brownell, 2017). For international students specifically, asking students what name they prefer and learning to correctly pronounce their preferred name is a simple but highly effective way to help students feel included. (To read about Brown international students’ experiences with using their preferred names on campus, see the International Writers’ Blog pieces, What's Your Name? and What's Your Name 2?). Namecoach, in Canvas, allows students to upload the pronunciation of their names, along with their pronouns. Brown’s Information Technology Group has provided detailed instructions for how to use Namecoach. Several apps also offer tools to hear the pronunciation of names in multiple languages, such as NameShouts and HearNames.

In addition, international students report that an important component of inclusion is to see professors purposefully include international representation in course content and texts. For example, when using case studies or scenarios to help students explore concepts, intentionally use some examples that tackle global issues, include people of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, or take place outside of the United States.

Feedback

Acknowledgment of students’ international backgrounds can be especially relevant when providing feedback on student work. A multi-university study among both undergraduates and graduates found that international students identified “feedback” as one of their most desired areas for the university to improve (Harris, Helms, & Deardorff, 2017). For example, some research on supporting international students with writing indicates that faculty simply acknowledging that “good writing” looks different around the world is enough to help students feel supported, even if that faculty member is not familiar with the exact details of a student’s linguistic or cultural background (Fox, 1994). Including a syllabus statement that directly addresses linguistic diversity (see below) can help to foster an inclusive environment for multilingual students. For more details about providing inclusive feedback, see this resource on inclusive practices.

Syllabus Statement to Support Multilingual Students

Brown welcomes students from around the country and the world, and their unique perspectives enrich our learning community. To support students whose first language is not English, an array of services are available on campus including language and culture workshops and individual appointments. For more information, contact the English Language Specialists at [email protected] or (401) 863-5672.

Sharing campus resources

In Jin & Schneider’s (2017) study of international inclusion practices used by faculty at a large university, the most frequently endorsed practice was sharing and using campus support resources. The resources at Brown to support international students have grown considerably over the past few years. Because the expectations for using support, approaching those in positions of authority, and asking for help can vary widely in different cultures, norming the use of support resources and making mediated referrals when necessary can help international students to feel supported not only in their academic pursuits but in all aspects of their lives in the United States. For example, if a student is seeking to make friends and meet other international-identifying students, connect them with the Global Brown Center for International Students, which plans community building and cultural events as well as trips around Providence and New England. Or, if after discussing educational goals with a multilingual student, you find they wish to work proactively on their use of English, refer them to the Sheridan Center’s English language specialists.

Additionally, with the frequent recent changes to immigration policies, which often lead to anxiety and confusion for students, faculty can reiterate that Brown will continue to support and welcome international students. Faculty can see Brown's Response to the Executive Order and Brown’s response to court’s ruling on travel ban for language and resources. If you want to learn about the suite of resources available to international students more generally, please contact the Global Brown team at [email protected].

Making the classroom experience more inclusive to international students does not always require significant changes to course content. Instead, simple changes to the way content is presented and how we acknowledge the presence of diverse communities can help make the classroom more welcoming for all students.

 

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References

Cooper, K.M., Haney, B., Krieg, A., & Brownell, S.E. (2017). What’s in a name? The importance of students perceiving that an instructor knows their names in a high-enrollment biology classroom. CBE – Life Sciences Education,16 (1). Available: http://www.lifescied.org/content/16/1/ar8.abstract.

Fox, H. (1994). Listening to the world: Cultural issues in academic writing. National Council of Teachers of English.

Harris M.W., Helms, R.M., Darla K. Deardorff, D.K. (2017). Bridging divides in the intercultural classroom. Presentation at the Association of International Education Administrators Annual Conference.

Hsu, C., & Huang, I. (2017). Are international students quiet in class? The influence of teacher confirmation on classroom apprehension and willingness to talk in class. Journal of International Students, 7(1): 38-52.

IIE. (2018). Open Doors Data Summary. Available: https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors/Data/International-Students/Enrollment

Jin, L., & Schneider, J. (2017, May). Teaching beyond the classroom: Faculty perceptions of the global classroom. Presentation at the NAFSA Annual Conference and Expo.

NAFSA Publications, Open Doors Report.https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13613324.2012.674026