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The Challenges Facing International Students in Higher Education Essay

The number of international students studying in the UK has soared over the past decade due to globalization. Paige (1990) defined International students as those individuals who temporarily lived in the foreign countries and received the education as exchanged students. The main reason why international students come to the foreign countries is that they want to receive better education compared to their origin countries (Hayes and Lin, 1994; Marcketti et al, 2006). Therefore, international students have become an important part in the higher education and significantly increase the income of the universities in the UK.

For this reason, this essay will argue that, the international students will face different kinds of challenge mainly focusing on language difficulty, culture barrier and psychological problem in abroad. The paper will outline the challenges facing international students and some possible solutions. Language difficulty is a general problem that international students would face. English is a second language for international students in the UK and students who want to come to study at higher education level need to pass the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test.

British universities mainly regard the IELTS as their entry qualification (Macrae, 1997:3), and an IELTS score of 6 (or less commonly TOEFL 550/213) is the common entry level if the students want to study postgraduate courses at most universities in the UK. However, it is not simple for some international students to pass this test, particularly those non-native students who have a poor English background. Furthermore, during their academic study for international student, the main problem is the language difficulty.

It is because that language ability as a critical medium of communication and the academic adjustment is limited without language proficiency (Hofstede, 1991). This will commonly happen to international students at some cases such as essays writing, critical analysis and oral presentations. Apart from the language barrier, the cultural barrier is another problem faced by international students. As noted by Persaud (1993:45), both of the higher education and the particularly pressure from the alien academic culture are the challenges for International students.

In other words, the linguistic difficulties may lead to academic difficulty and failure to understand at a cultural level. Therefore, international students need to make their individual efforts to overcome linguistic problems through every possible way such as reading newspapers, listening to the radio, watching television, making native friends and talking with local people. In addition, they should adjust themselves to the new life abroad and get information to the local culture environment they are not familiar with.

Certainly, universities also have the responsibility to help international students to overcome the cultural shock they face. For solution, universities in the UK should incorporate some knowledge of native cultures into class to help students get to know some the UK cultures and this could benefit everyone. Psychological problem is another challenge for international students. Some scholars defined psychological stress as ‘a certain relationship between an individual and the environment that the person evaluate it as taxing or exceeding his or her resources and may endanger his or her well-being’ (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984:19).

International students are faced different kind of stresses when they study abroad. Some could adjust their emotion soon but others may need more time to get used to the new life abroad. Burns (1991:61) claimed that compared to local students, international students feel more stress. International students may receive more pressure from their families pushing them to success, less competent with academic skills, and misunderstanding by academic staff. Those students who are not able to dapt the life change bringing by studying abroad may suffer psychological issues, including homesickness, loneliness, lacking of social support and feeling no sense of belonging in the host country.

Another issue is that some students feel not comfortable in a new and unfamiliar environment and they are shy to express themselves to others, which cause them even harder to recovery from depression. The psychological problem could affect the study of international students and this issue cannot be ignored. Therefore, it is important to find a good solution to solve this problem for international students.

At first, students could divert their views by developing hobbies, doing sports at free time, making friends and building up social life in the host country. And then some international students also find that it is a good opportunity for them to travel around inside the UK or in the mainland Europe, which help them a lot to relieve from pressure. Meanwhile, universities also have the responsibility to help international students on this problem and they could establish an international student psychological coaching center to have staff there for oversea students who need help.

Henry and Osborne (1983:293) argued that the teachers are the key part to help the students in the aspects of mental and emotional life. They also could manage the relationships and expectations of students and help them succeed in due courses. In addition, universities could hold some activities from time to time especially for international students to let them have the opportunities to meet and get to know each other.

With the efforts made by students as well as the help from universities, international students could make a smooth transition to the new life abroad and therefore further disappointments can be avoided as well as anger and other negative emotions. (Sovic 2008:148). In conclusion, international students would face many challenges, including language difficulty, unfamiliar academic environment and psychological stress. It is important for the students themselves as well as the universities to realize these issues.

As has been noted universities need a right attitude to face these challenges, such as incorporate knowledge of native cultures into class, establish an international student psychological coaching center and hold some activities for international students. On the other hand, international students also should make their individual efforts to overcome problems. For instance, communicate with local people, developing hobbies and building up social life. By this way, international students could have a better and easier life during their study abroad.


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