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Survey's Insights on How International Students Adjust

November 21, 2019

More than three-quarters (77 percent) of international students say domestic students are welcoming, but many struggle with feelings of being discriminated against and have difficulty making American friends, according to a survey of almost 2,000 current international students and recent graduates of U.S. universities from World Education Services, a nonprofit organization that provides credential evaluation services and produces research on the international student experience.

Nearly a third (31 percent) of the students surveyed said they have been discriminated against at their institution based on their nationality. Thirty percent said the cultural barriers they face in the U.S. are more challenging than they had anticipated, and 41 percent said they find it hard to form close friendships with domestic students. By contrast, 86 percent of international students said it is easy to form close friendships with students from their home country, and 80 percent of students said the same of other international students from a different country.

Sixty percent of international students said they are not actively involved at activities and events at their college, and 29 percent said they do not have a strong social network on their campus.

By and large international students report being happy with their academic experience: 89 percent said they are happy with the quality of teaching and with the quality of their academic program, and 83 percent said they found it easy to adjust to academic expectations in the U.S. Nearly three-quarters -- 71 percent -- said they attend professors’ office hours. But some are facing academic stress: 59 percent said they spend more time outside class on academics than they anticipated, and 34 percent said the stress of schoolwork negatively affects their mental health.

As far as daily life and student support goes, 30 percent of students said finding housing was harder than they expected, and 51 percent said transportation is challenging. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of students said they are satisfied with the advising their institutions offer on immigration issues, but slightly more than a quarter (26 percent) said they’re dissatisfied with information provided by their institution on how to set up a U.S. bank account. Slightly less than a quarter (24 percent) said they are not able to find food that meets their needs on campus.

The WES report includes a number of recommendations for how colleges can better support international students.

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Elizabeth Redden

Elizabeth Redden, Senior Reporter, covers general higher education topics, religion and higher education, and international higher education for Inside Higher Ed. She has more than a decade of experience as an education journalist. She holds an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing from Columbia University.

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