Most campuses make a big deal out of the orientation especially built for international students, with good reason. While every student can benefit from orientation session, international students may need it more as some of them may never have left their home country before. It is essential to inform them about immigration compliance, health insurance coverage, how to navigate campus, and what social and academic expectations are in the country and at the institution. But…
Did anyone ask international students what they needed?
It always felt weird telling students about the resources that are available and all the services our office provides for them without actually getting to know them first or learning about their personal goals. At Memorial University, we pride ourselves on being student-centred. While we occasionally use student surveys in various departments, it did not feel like we had a strong and cohesive way to understand the experience of our international students. We needed to do more to understand what students need.
International Student Barometer
Every two years, my institution participates in the International Student Barometer, which is a survey administered by I-Graduate International Insight, a third-party company based in the Netherlands. Memorial University student data is then compared to a sample of over three million international students around the world. The data allowed us to look at what we were doing well as well as improvements we need to make so that our international students have a better experience not only during orientation, but also through their whole journey with us. The data allowed us to make significant changes and start new conversations among faculty and staff on campus over the summer. I was ready to talk about the great changes that were going to happen in the fall based on the feedback we had received from the previous cohort. But wait a minute… we have a new cohort! The data we are working with is from the 2017-18 academic year.
Public Forum on the Experience of International Students
Even with the results of the International Student Barometer , I still felt students needed to be consulted and actively engaged in conversations with us, especially the incoming students that had not been surveyed last year. We know that our campus is rapidly diversifying and that student needs are evolving. As part of the orientation, I held a public forum on campus and invited the local media and community members in addition to students and university staff and faculty. I wanted to prompt the students about the International Student Barometer to get additional qualitative data to complement the information we already had. I also wanted to involve the whole community in making our town a better environment for international students.
Don’t ask yourself what you can do for your students, ask them instead!
The public forum was a very positive experience. I was able to engage the entire campus community and even generate interest on international student experience from the community. Our university leaders are now talking more about retention strategies based on the five points of pride and new challenges I created. I would recommend that other institutions hold a similar public forum on international student experiences on their campus during orientation.
Let’s flip the script and be truly student-centred with orientation!
Patrick Arsenault is the International Student Programming Coordinator at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland. Patrick has an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis and a Graduate Certificate in Global Public Affairs from the University of Missouri. He also holds a M.Sc. in International Marketing with a Specialization in Customer Management from the University of Strathclyde.
Photo credits: Images from Memorial University
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NAFSA.
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