No matter how exciting it can be to study internationally, going to school outside your “home country” takes some adjustment. As students prepare to begin a new school year in a new place, I have some advice for international students and “third culture kids” going to university for the first time.
Force yourself to engage with the local, “host country” students. This is hard. It is infinitely more comfortable to stay with people from your home country, or with other “third culture kids” if you are the product of an international expat background. BUT, if you are in school overseas to learn new skills, have new experiences, and to generally benefit from being somewhere besides “home”, you have to try.
When local students seem clueless and say seemingly stupid or uniformed things, remember that they are trying to make a connection with you– they just don’t really know how. Realize that they are out of their “comfort zone”, too. Their attempts at humor may sound ignorant or rude to you, but are actually well-intentioned. They are making an effort.
So how do you interact with people you don’t understand, or you think could be idiots? Try this:
- Listen to them first, but also share your own story. If necessary, set the record straight on their perceptions of you and your “home”. Let the person know who you are. You will have to speak up.
- Ask questions of the local/host country people – ones they can answer and that you might find helpful: for example, what do they like to do on the weekend, what kind of sports/music/activities do they like, where did they grow up, have they travelled to any other countries, what are some good places to check out locally, etc.
- Practice small talk, relying on some of the ideas above. The more interaction you have, the easier it is to form a friendly relationship.
- Be patient and persistent. Try not to get too frustrated.
- Be yourself as much as possible. Smile, listen, and try to relax. If you seem interested in other people, they will be interested in you.
For educators and international programs offices attached to schools and universities: Providing this information to your international students will help. Also, building a short module on integrating with local students and what to expect in terms of cultural and local adjustment can yield great rewards. Often students just need to be given the tools and insight. They can take it from there.
For students with high mobility/global exposure, integrating with ‘the locals” can be unusually hard. However, if you show them how to “do it” and clarify the associated benefits, you can help mitigate feelings of isolation and adjustment difficulty. This will provide a much better experience, a more stable student, and a well-rounded learning situation. A fantastic source of additional information on this topic is Tina Quick’s book, The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition.
For more info and assistance with programming or international student coaching, check in with us at info@BlueHeron8.com. Good luck!