Three Ways International Advisors Can Improve Cultural Competency

The National Association for College Admission Counseling’s National Conference will take place in Salt Lake City this September, and a session named Fundamentals Of Recruiting And Counseling International Students: Cultural Competency has already sold out.

Why? Because awareness of how different cultures and backgrounds think, behave, and respond has become more critical than ever to recruitment and counseling in higher education.

Let’s take a look at three methods of improving cultural competency that are essential background knowledge – whether you’re able to snag a ticket to the big talk or not!

Acknowledging the importance of cultural competency in recruitment

International students are increasingly multicultural, so recruitment must be too.

In 2016/17, Chinese students alone accounted for over 350,000 student positions in the United States, followed by tens of thousands each from India, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. These are not origin countries with a similar cultural tapestry to the US. Add in the fact that Nepal (+20.1%), Nigeria (+9.7%), Bangladesh (+9.7%), and Spain (+7.9%) also enjoyed a significant year-on-year increase in US studentships and it becomes pretty clear that the landscape is diversifying on an unprecedented level.

Increased diversity is not just a fact of life – it’s an opportunity to be embraced. Yes, foreign students pay higher fees (nearly US$25,000 on average), but they also enrich the cultural and intellectual profile of the school. Their presence provides economic benefits to the local area and strengthens business links and communication between their new home and their city of origin. And they bring skills and outlooks from abroad that can replenish the local market and prove advantageous to employers.

The recruitment of culturally diverse students requires a level of adaptability. For example, Chinese universities tend to market themselves on their facilities – so US schools that put an emphasis on personalities may not hit the mark. This may have something to do with the fact that 65% of final decisions on international study are made by Chinese parents, rather than the students themselves.

You can also adapt your marketing materials by providing them in different languages.  While this is particularly important in regions where parents and grandparents may be assisting (or directing) the decision-making process, it will also aid you in attracting highly mobile students who are looking to develop or improve their language skills in tangent with their higher education.  Language optimization can be implemented easily and affordably by partnering with marketing specialists that offer localization services.

More to the point, localizing your marketing efforts doesn’t require guesswork. You can easily hone your strategies with services that help you analyze and compare the results of the where, who, and why of your campaigns, leaving you with clearly articulated strategies for your target student markets.

Diverse markets call for flexible communication strategy

International students are a varied bunch. There is a strong argument to be made that the phrase ‘international student experience' is too vague for anything but a general conversation – every culture, and every student, will enjoy and benefit from a different experience. Now the concept is coming of age, it is time to rely less on preconceptions about how Asian or African or European students will respond to particular approaches, and to focus instead on personal experience, communication, and engagement.

Identifying the needs of different groups within an institution requires feedback and analysis first and foremost. Well-meaning advisors may find themselves concentrating on improving the social or extra-curricular side of a specific culture's experience when often it's a question of education quality or financial stress that is forefront in their mind.

But there is also an argument to be made that what a student wants is not necessarily what they need! Chinese students, for example, are known for their preference for lone studio accommodation, when a more sociable living arrangement might serve them better in their first year overseas. While social assimilation should by no means be the goal (some students will be more comfortable staying within their particular culture), each individual has a balance to strike. Encouraging students towards shared living can be an effective way of preventing them from becoming isolated from both their host and home cultures.

To some degree, it is a question of marketing: not just the adaptation of different techniques and emphases for the recruitment of different demographics (although that’s also important) but in the continuous manner that opportunities and solutions are shared with those students once they’ve signed up.

Integrating technology and modern ways of communicating

Social media is a particularly useful way to share these messages, but not always in the way you'd expect. Of course, the usage and even legality of specific platforms vary from region to region, but to reiterate an earlier point: don't assume, analyze! Try different approaches, and you'll start to find what's most effective across cultures and even shifting patterns from generation to generation. 

Diversifying online marketing efforts increases the chance of creating an emotional connection towards your institution. Pairing an imaginative social media approach with a sturdy customer relationship platform allows marketers to harness powerful data about the needs, preferences, and behaviors of potential students, and to continually respond with an effective, culturally sensitive message that resonates on and off campus.

John is a digital nomad and freelance writer for higher education and marketing publications. A native Englishman, he is always on the move but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans.

International students are increasingly multicultural, so recruitment must be too. Recruiting culturally diverse students requires adaptability, creativity, and flexible communication skills.
Is your cultural competency ready for 2019? This article outlines some techniques and strategies that can help you and your institution master cultural competency starting with the recruitment stage and following your students through to success.