Challenges international students face

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 23 September 2016

Challenges international students face


This report has been written to lay out the difficulties, those international students face in their desire to pursue further education in the United Kingdom. The challenges that are outlined in this report are by no means limited to the areas chosen. The justification for writing this report lays in the fact that firstly there is a need to sustain and increase the number of students that actually come into the United Kingdom for their studies, as this makes an income for the government (Michele Schweisfurth, 2009). The second is that the quality of education being offered is the United Kingdom is being improved by the diversity of international students.

The International students, who are studying at University College Birmingham (UCB) average in the 1100 students range and from 65 different countries, meaning there is a wide range of challenges involved in studying in the UK. Thus, this report was written to investigate the challenges faced and discuss those complications, to suggest possible solutions to make the transition period smoother. The four main areas that will be covered are teaching styles, financial difficulties, language problems and the weather in the United Kingdom. The report has 3 sections; Firstly, methodology to explain the methods which are used, secondly, finding and analysing data and finally, conclusions and recommendation for international students.


This report uses both primary and secondary sources. The primary research was carried out by the use of a questionnaire. The questionnaire was designed in a way which made it easy to analyse and less time consuming than other methods (Bell, 2005). The questions were of a specific nature, ensuring the sample gained was relative, as primary research, and allowed the author to research the specific areas selected. Denscombe (2007) states that a questionnaire, includes the fact and opinions of participants. 12 questions were asked, this is to reduce the time taken for respondents and does not allow them to be bored, as Denscombe, (2007, p.163) says “The questions will not be irritating or annoying for the respondents to answer”, this ensure that the respondents answer accurately and do not answer hastily, in order to finish the questionnaire swiftly. The target set by the university in terms of questionnaires to collate was 30, this allows the author to collate a relative sample, in terms of the amount of responses.

Therefore I printed and handed out a total of 45 copies, using a random sampling distribution method and collated 30. For the most part, the questions asked were of a closed nature as they are easier to answer as they are not of a personal nature and have limited response choices (Tomas, 2009). There were a small number of closed questions which then followed with an open question, such as how does the weather affect your daily life, this allows further probing into the main issues, and to allow respondents to give their personal reflective views. The questionnaire was tested by my peers to check its comprehension and grammar, it was found to be mostly comprehensive although some questions were amended to make them more specific and the correction of small grammatical errors.

The secondary research was in the form of 6 academic journal articles, as directed by the University. The importance of secondary research is it is un-biased and can be very useful in supporting the author’s findings. They have all been utilised within my four main topics except the weather, as there is no information within them about this topic. The sources themselves are in depth and have covered some a wide array of issues with international students. The sources are current, valid and support author’s opinions and they are readily available on the UCB online library, allowing access whenever it is needed. Findings and Research:

– English Language:

Learning the native country’s language is higher on the list of priorities of international students, who wish to gain academic success. Andrade (2006) says even if it is over a short period of time, this positive motivation enables them to progress not only academically but also with the native culture. As a whole communication skills will be improved considerably (Zhang & Mi, 2010), who mention, that acquiring English language focuses on four skills; Firstly, speaking, which is the ability to discuss, present and interact in lectures. Secondly, listening, that there is an understanding of the lecturer and the subject matter is comprehendible Third, reading, both with a good level of comprehension and a good level of speed. Fourth, writing, being able to take notes from lectures and then compose essays. The International students will expect that some complex situations may arise after their arrival to the UK that will resolve with time.

For example, the bar chart (see figure 1, p.7) illustrates the result derived from question 5, that speed is the main problem relating to language skills, in addition Schweisfurth & Gu (2009) did a survey to discover how many international students are apprehensive of speaking the natives language, before they leave for that country, the results showed that less than 10% were confident with their language skill level, which only slightly rose after the students settled, especially in the areas of discussion and answering questions from the lecturers. Ramachandran (2011) argues, that even with additional English training or achieving a higher score in IELTS/ TOEFL, does not help them with problems in a learning environment, since they were instructed by a non-native speaker or not in a similar environment.

Once students gained speed in conversing will they have the confidence of the host language, the confidence with the language would have most likely prevented difficult situations occurring, and thus reducing stress levels for the student. In contrast, Zhang & Mi (2010) cite that speaking is the most difficult skill for example; participating in class discussions or performing oral presentations within the first year, but that improves with the support from lecturers and peers, this is supported by the primary research which showed speaking was time after time one of the main responses given by respondents, as shown in figure 2.

In addition, there is a 75% decrease over time of overseas students, who feel participating in discussions was useful for improving skill level (Schweisfurth & Gu, 2009). In addition, Ramachandran (2011) records some additional studies in language skills, that shows that those students who are equipped with an advanced level in the skills, have fewer troubles, as they have already studied in their local provision, but their scope to progress any further in their country is limited. However after collecting the data from question 4, the results clearly show that writing is the most difficult skill for international students from UCB (see figure 2, p.7). Zhang & Mi (2010) also found similar results that writing was the most difficult skill and it did not seem to improve significantly over time.

Figure 1. The Main Language Barrier

Figure 2. Most Difficult English Language Skill

Financial Difficulties:

In addition to the wide array of issues international students face, they also have the added pressure of the soaring costs of living (Smith & Khawaja, 2011). The bBritish currency is fairly expensive, in comparison to the international students home currency, so understandably this is a major concern for them, not surprisingly the results for question 8 (figure 3, p.9) show that less than 10% percent of the students find that the living cost are not expensive, these students were from affluent countries. Whereas just over 90% percent of students believe living in the United Kingdom is too expensive. Schweisfurth and Gu (2009) also validate that approximately 69% of students worried about finances before arrival, the results of the questionnaire clearly show this. Schweisfurth & Gu (2009) state university fees in the UK are double what they would cost in comparison to their home country, and that 59% of international students make it to the end of the first term, the other 41% discontinued their studies due to financial pressures and returned home.

Ramachandran (2011) recommends that the teaching team inform all students of the specific details of their programme and any other matters that would be helpful in managing their finances. For example renting an apartment that is not near the University because it is cheaper, but not factoring in the additional transport costs. However, most international students would prefer to live closer to the university and this is shown in the higher accommodation costs (figure 4, p.9) where a small amount of students are paying more than £600 each month for accommodation, maybe for a number of reasons, either very close to the university or in a city centre location. So, the author found from question 9 that if students pay more in the rent, they will are more likely to be living closer to the university. Ramachandran (2011) mentions that students can reduce transport costs by living close to the university as well as other resources, such as the internet being available.

Figure 3. Percentage of students who find the cost of living high

Figure 4. Accommodation Costs

Weather in the UK:

The colder weather can be a culture shock for the international student, in comparison to their home countries weather, which will most definitely by warmer than the weather in the UK. Essentially, within the secondary research, there was no mention of this topic. As many international student come from hot climates, they would be an expectation that they would not like the weather in the UK, however, they were asked about liking weather in question 10 and the results show that more than half do like the weather in the UK (see figure 5, p.11).

Linking this onto question 11, where participants were asked if the weather affected their daily life, the results showed that three quarters of respondents answered yes to this question (see figure 6 p.11). International students may come from a climate where the seasons do not change as frequently as the UK’s. This then in turn affects things such as wardrobe issues, meaning having to purchase different clothes for different seasons. These are some of the responses for the question in hand:

“It is cold, I cannot go for a run and the wind is also very strong” “I always have to carry an umbrella every day in my bag” On the whole the participants found that they preferred to stay at home, when the weather was cold, and it had an effect on their mood.

Figure 5. Students who like the weather in the UK

Figure 6. Does the weather affect you

Teaching Style:

The Teaching style, here in the UK, is very different to the teaching styles many of the international students are used to ;( see figure 7 pg.13) this can be in an already stressful time, something which the students struggle to adapt to, alongside other issues already cited. Smith et al (2010) found students found it difficult to adjust to the interactive teaching style and critical thinking approach within the UK, and also Students find lack of respect from home students to teaching staff unnerving, as in their home countries, teaching staff get the upmost respect.

Narayanan T.Ramachandran (2011) many academic staff wonders why international students prefer to talk to them in private instead of raising academic issues in the class. When academic staff refuses to see students who attempt to meet them outside their office hours and without prior appointment, students may feel insulted or start believing that the staff are not forthcoming

Ramsay et al. (1999) found that student’s difficulties understanding lectures in terms of vocabulary and speed, and with tutors who spoke too fast or gave too little input. In home countries teaching styles will differ, something the international student will have to get to grips with sooner rather than later, further findings found international students dislike group work (Sarkodie-Mensah, 1998), referring back to the primary research it would appear the results were (see figure 8 pg.13) that within the sample listening to lectures was the most difficult, followed by discussions and seminar and finally note taking. This would support the secondary research statement.

Amongst other issues found, it was cited that Professors did not recognise the emotional and psychological problems experienced and identified by international students such as stress, homesickness, isolation and finances, all of which are potentially detrimental to learning, Robertson et al (2000), it would appear that all the issues ultimately impact on the students learning and should be taken into consideration within at least the first year of study. (Figure 7) Is the teaching style in the UK, different to that of your country

Figure 7. Is the teaching style in the UK, different to that of your country Figure 8. Teaching Method found difficult

Conclusions and recommendations:

In conclusion it was clearly notable that the main language barriers were speaking, however this was only a main issue at the start of the learning programme and it would then improve with time and support from teaching staff, but the real issue to be noted is that writing skills took a lot longer and only improved slightly, but with a noted effort. In the UK the cost of living is expensive however it should be fully researched in terms of what support they are entitled to and a realistic budget should be put in place, should they need to they can also work part time, which will not only help improve their English skills, encourage new friendships and stop them from getting homesick.

With regards to the weather, it clearly showed that most the students did not mind the weather in the UK however it did impact on their daily life, and they had to adapt in terms of clothing. The author would like to recommend that students understand the UK has seasons and pack their wardrobe to this effect, as to not waste money on adjusting to the climate on arrival. In terms of teaching style, there were some real issues notes here, students were struggling with the vast array of teaching methods and did not feel confident in lectures, discussion or note taking all of which have a direct impact on learning, the author suggests having some small group sessions introducing students to those methods, so they can raise any issues they find, rather than it go unnoticed. In summary the author advises for international student to research all aspects of studying in the UK, to be well prepared on arrival. Learners should also note that if they set goals, that all the hard work they put in will be worthwhile, upon successful completion. (2,437 words)


Andrade, M. S. (2006) International Students in English-speaking universities: Adjustment factors. Journal of Research in International Education. Vol. 5, No.2, pp.131-154

Bell, J. (2005) Doing your Research Project, Fourth Edition. Open University Press, Maidenhead.

Denscombe, M. (7007) The Good Research Guide, Third Edition. Open University Press, Maidenhead.

Ramachandran, N. T. (2011) Enhancing international students’ experiences: An imperative agenda for universities in the UK. Journal of Research in International Education. Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 201-220

Schweisfurth, M. and Gu, Q. (2009) Exploring the Experiences of international students in the UK higher education: possibilities and limits of interculturality in university life. Intercultural Education. Vol. 20, No. 5, pp. 463-473

Smith, R. A. and Khawaja, N. G. (2011) A review of the acculturation experiences of international student. International Journal of Intercultural Relations. Vol. 35, No. 6, pp.699-713


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 23 September 2016

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