Jul 16, 2018 By G. John Cole
Between summer school and the autumn intake, we’re fast approaching the time of year when a lot of new international students arrive on campus. Naturally, as an international administrator, your to-do list is under control, and you're well on course for a smooth registration period and an exciting start to the semester.
But with all the hard work that’s gone into wooing, registering, and preparing for your international arrivals, there might be a few practical details that you've overlooked.
How & when will your international students arrive on campus?
London’s Kingston University is among several who offer a free airport pick-up service to new arrivals. They’ve even established an on-campus International Arrivals Lounge for inbound students to touch down and catch their breath.
Travel arrangements in a strange land are an added stress for undergraduates who already have plenty on their mind. Let them know up front not to bring too much stuff - and reassure them with a list of local shops and services where they can easily acquire the basics. If you're aiming to pick them up, then try to clarify in advance how many arrivals you’re expecting and how much they’ll be carrying.
And if it’s not possible to collect them, try to make other arrangements or at least provide a welcome pack with clear instructions and advice on difficulties such as super-late or –early arrivals. Every international office has had students who rolled up to campus in a limo because there were no trains or taxis from the airport or spent the night in a train station because they arrived too late for their last connection? While you won’t be able to micromanage every arriving student, it’s useful to consider the potential challenges and provide clear instructions that manage arriving students expectations. And remember that their journey doesn’t end when they arrive on campus, especially for those who will be using university housing. Review your plan for checking new arrivals into their accommodation, and consider everything they’ll need for that first 24 hours.
How about integration?
First impressions count. An international student who finds themselves alone with no directions and no introductions already has their study experience framed in unfavorable terms.
You can take some of the pressure off the settling process by arranging pre-departure orientation in the form of cross-cultural advice and pre-arranged, guided social interactions. It's easier for an outsider to get through the first weeks of class if they already have a local ‘friend' and a way to connect with other incoming students.
A structured program of events will involve representatives from every area of campus life and cultivate a sense of community and purpose at a moment when international students might otherwise feel directionless.
What ongoing services will you offer to international students?
It is tougher for an international student to get full value from your program if they spend excess energy on figuring out stuff that local students have organized in advance.
Services such as mentoring programs and financial aid can be introduced in pre-orientation and during orientation week. The establishment of regular accessible opening hours at the international office will make it simpler for visiting students to check in or catch up with these services and enable those who are slower off the mark to keep up with the pack.
And it’s not just about academic or economic requirements. Fundamental daily needs such as a canteen menu that is appropriate and palatable to students from diverse cultures can become an opportunity not just to make them feel welcome but to inspire cross-cultural exchange and engagement.
Do your incoming internationals have the right insurance?
It's terrific to have engaged, well-prepared students heading to your institution – but if that enthusiasm is misdirected, it could end up costing time and money. Take, for example, the Danish student who wrote ahead to one international office to confirm his acquisition of 'Mountain and Sea Rescue Insurance.’ A little dramatic maybe, but best to be cautious when you’re a long way from home. The only thing is, the student was arriving in a small, Midwestern town where the most extreme terrain was a small creek and some ill-paved bicycle paths.
The insurance obligations of incoming students vary from school to school, but students will thank those administrators who point out the specific risks and requirements of their region and program if the school had not made a pre-packaged policy available.
Caution is particularly advisable for US schools, since the cost of healthcare is so high. Institutions that offer an appropriate, well-priced package – or advice on where to find one – will find the gesture repaid with the instant trust of their new students. Likewise, European schools can forestall unexpected hardship by advising students from elsewhere on the continent to make sure they have their EHIC card in their pocket before they leave their homeland (but also to stress that the card is not a substitute for health insurance).
Is your staff trained to cultural sensitivity?
A warm, inclusive campus requires its staff to go one step further than friendly good intentions. Cultural sensitivity training can keep relationships on track and open up opportunities for collaboration between different departments. Every professional on campus has their area of expertise to bring to the nurturing of a welcoming environment, whether that area is psychology, sports - or cuisine.
And on the micro level, careful attention to the needs of individuals can empower your colleagues to keep their international students up to speed, and to equip them with all that they need for a shot at success. For example, foreigners may have trouble keeping up with what is said if English is their second language, and they will benefit from additional reference materials, notes, and recordings as well as from the efforts of their professors to keep them involved in classroom debates and activities.
These are the little touches that go beyond the basics of welcoming international students to your institution, but they will foster better results, more fulfilling experiences, and a stronger community all around.