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Can Foreign Students Reach Their Academic Potential?

Can Foreign Students Reach Their Academic Potential

by Budi Pertiw (Indonesia)

USA offers competency-based education and scholarship opportunities for higher education that are immensely attractive for international students. This country has some of the best universities in the world, and its educational system offers more freedom for creative expression, experimenting in different fields of study and a great choice of extracurricular activities. The fact that the students' individuality and diversity are greatly valued makes this type of education especially inspiring for international students, whose countries do not offer such opportunities. According to the Open Doors 2014 report, “… the number of international students at colleges and universities in the United States increased by eight percent to a record high of 886,052 students in the 2013/14 academic year.” Foreign students are exposed to challenging curriculums and mental stress; however, thanks to the flexibility, financial support and diversity of the U.S. educational system, the majority of international students are capable of reaching greater academic potential when compared to the students in their native countries.

All international students are faced with great mental stress associated to their studies, as well as psychological stress associated to migration. They have to find a way to adapt into the new social environment, but are also faced with completely different academic requirements than the ones they were familiar with. The U.S. educational system grades students on the basis of tests, class participation, and academic writing. It takes a considerable amount of time for an international student to get used to the challenging curriculums and collaborative learning experience. Professors in U.S. colleges encourage active participation in class, but a student accustomed to a more passive approach to education has difficulties to stand out in such environment. In addition, the U.S. educational system requires students to take general education classes regardless of the careers they plan to pursue. International students, who expect to focus on a particular niche, are inevitably surprised with this element of their studies.

Foreign students are subjected to fair treatment in all aspects of their studies. However, that equality results with struggles for non-natives in the U.S. educational system, since they have to answer to the same requirements as native students, but have difficulties with written and spoken expression. The education in nearly all countries includes academic writing, but these students are shocked when they need to complete multiple essays, term papers, research projects, lab reports, and other types of mandatory assignments in perfect English. They are not familiar with the standardized structure of academic writing and have to work much harder than native students to get high grades on papers. Foreign students are expected to give presentations and submit high-quality academic work just as every other student in their class, but cannot master English syntactic structure as well as natives. In addition, they do not understand “inside jokes” and have to ask a lot of questions in order to realize what their professors and classmates meant to say with a particular phrase. The language barrier is one of the greatest obstacles for international students in the USA.

Although foreign students have difficulties to socialize with people local to the sojourn culture and struggle to meet the requirements of the U.S. educational system, they are not alone in their mission. As reported in an international study of adaptation and coping, foreign students are most likely to develop connections with immigrants and students from their own countries. Although they are not used to American culture, the stress is facilitated when they find the support and sense of community they need. U.S. colleges have a campus system that plays a significant role in the students' lives. In addition to accommodation, these campuses also provide opportunities for social, cultural and entertaining events. International students are not excluded from any aspect of campus life; they are an important part of this system's diversity and flexibility. In addition to these opportunities for academic growth and social life, foreign students are also able to take part in work-study programs. Although culture shock is inevitable for foreigners, they are able to overcome the initial emotional discomfort as soon as they take active participation in campus activities. Thanks to the vibrant society that welcomes these students, they are subjected to unique cultural experiences in a safe, constructive, and inspiring environment.

Each year, thousands of foreign students complete higher education programs in the USA. They are not exempted from different challenges, obstacles and social isolation, but most of them manage to achieve the objectives they were aiming for. Students have always been in a constant struggle to improve their rights, social status and well-being, and the American educational system creates favorable environment for such achievements. Foreign students in the USA are able to pursue learning tailored to their own needs, interests and goals. If they decide to return to their native countries after graduation, they enter the workforce with greater practical knowledge, skills, and highly-valued efficiency. As a result of the mobility of studies and various opportunities provided by U.S. colleges and universities, international students are finally able to realize their entire academic, intellectual and professional potential.

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