The University Record, March 1, 1993

International students must cope with host of problems, faculty say

By Mary Jo Frank

One of the most striking lessons too many international students learn at the U-M isn’t found in books. It’s learning to live with isolation, sometimes even hostility.

A lack of interaction with Americans is one of the major problems experienced by international students, according to Rashid L. Bashshur, chair of Senate Assembly’s Committee for a Multicultural University.

One way to make the U-M more hospitable would be to establish an “International House” in which internationally-oriented American students and international students could live, study and relax together, says Bashshur, who presented the committee’s report at the Feb. 15 Senate Assembly meeting.

Other suggestions:

  • Revitalize the “American Host Family” program, which has shrunk in size in recent years.

  • Schedule teas or receptions during which international students, spouses and families can socialize with American students.

  • Recognize spouses’ skills and interests and put these skills to use in ways spouses choose.

  • Organize outings for international students to concerts, plays and sports events, and field trips to local industries, government offices, courts and cultural institutions.

  • Establish a new student organization of American and international students to perform these activities.

  • Encourage student organizations and clubs to recruit international students as members.

    To encourage international students to share their cultures with Americans, the committee recommends organizing country or region-focused cultural activity groups within international student clubs that would recruit American students, especially those studying the language and culture of particular countries. Groups could have film showings, poetry and prose readings, book discussions, current affairs forums, slide shows and potlucks featuring the cuisine of the country.

    Another possibility is organizing some type of multi-ethnic festival.

    Bashshur says the U-M needs to try harder to integrate students from other countries and cultures into the University community.

    “The University has yet to develop an explicit policy regarding international students and their role in university life,” the committee noted in its report, which was accepted by the Assembly.

    The committee grouped the problems experienced by international students into four categories—recruitment and orientation, living arrangements, academic experience and cultural relativity, and community interaction—and offered recommendations to address the problems.

    Recruitment and orientation

    While the U-M has a good reputation in other countries, it doesn’t attempt to capitalize on it either in recruiting students or in enhancing the global role of the University.

    The application/admission process for undergraduates is difficult due to problems in communication and timing. Catalogues in U.S. Information Agency libraries, often the only source of information about the U-M, are not always current. Often international students have no knowledge of courses and requirements prior to campus orientation.

    Telephone communications to and from other countries are difficult. Prospective students calling from overseas tend to experience long delays in trying to reach the right person and are confused by voice mail.

    Delays in completing applications and their processing cause problems, including cancellation of admission when the enrollment deposit is late, loss of Univer-sity housing since only freshmen are guaranteed housing, and closed courses. The result: the loss of some outstanding students.

    The committee recommends that international student organizations help with the application and admissions process and orientation and help new international students get settled in Ann Arbor.

    A “buddy system” should be introduced that would match incoming international students with volunteers, Americans or citizens of other countries, who would meet students at the airport and help them get settled.

    The committee also recommends the University improve communication with prospective applicants, streamline the application and admission process to reduce delays, increase communication and make special allowances for both early and late arrivals on campus.

    Living arrangements, family life and basic needs

    While the majority of international students look to their educational experience in the United States as a highlight of their lives upon arrival, the committee found they often meet an indifferent, sometimes even hostile, environment.

    Problems include obtaining health care coverage for students and their families and affordable day care for children, finding ways to involve spouses in the University community in ways that recognize and utilize their skills, dealing with discrimination based on ethnicity and skin color, and obtaining proper identification so they can cash checks.

    Academic experience and cultural relativity

    The University traditionally has ignored the cultural attributes international students bring to campus, the committee said. Many are disturbed by an academic environment that does not emphasize cooperation, group projects and achievement. The committee notes that undergraduates find student advising lacking when it comes to planning their program of study, dealing with academic problems and difficulties, or providing support when they need it.

    Community interaction

    Recognizing that their primary purpose in the United States is to get an education, international students also would like to interact with Americans, to learn about and experience the American way of life and American culture, and to share their cultural heritage.

    However, because of a sense of isolation, most international students tend to socialize almost exclusively with fellow students from their own country or region, according to the committee. The University doesn’t promote this type of communication in a systematic way.

    To help make the campus more hospitable, the committee suggests creating a half-time position at the International Center to undertake new responsibilities to benefit international students and the University at large.