By Pei-Wei, Leah, and Isaac
According to Institution of International Education (2014), the numbers of international students studying in the U.S. grew at a record high with over 800,000 international students studying at U.S. colleges and Universities in 2013/2014. America is the top destination to host international students from five continents and over 200 countries. In order to gain the benefits of the open door policy, most American universities are recruiting more and more international students. The driving forces of increasing enrollment include but are not limited to diplomacy, intercultural understanding, intellectual exchange and globalism.
Penn State, as one of the leading universities, also joins the global trend in hosting international students. Based on the data from the Office of Global Programs, there are over 6,000 international students studying at Penn State (Global Penn State, 2012). Apparently, increasing and diversifying the international student population is one important aspect of Penn State’s global mission (Penn State, 2015). However, what does diversity mean to Penn State? Does the increase number of international students mean internationalization? In other words, will the academic exchange and cultural diversity be enriched by just increasing enrollment numbers of international students?
Undoubtedly, international students face many problems such as language barrier, homesickness and discrimination when studying in a foreign country. In a study, Lee and Rice (2007) reveal that international students encounter difficulties including cultural discrimination, feelings of discomfort, verbal discrimination, direct confrontation and physical attacks after interviewing 24 students from 15 countries. Glass et al. (2013) conducted a research and found three major uneven experiences among U.S. and international students. These are a) sense of community, b) faculty-student interactions and c) global perspective-taking. Based on the findings, international students felt less support and had a weaker affiliation with their universities. In addition, international students rate the quality of faculty-student interactions low because faculty are less likely to present issue and problems from different cultural perspectives. Furthermore, Asian international students in particular, felt threatened around people from different backgrounds. With all the results combined, it appears U.S. universities struggle in providing an ideal environment for academic, cultural and social integration benefiting both international and American students.
Many institutions make efforts to increase numbers of international students and expect assume benefits will be gained mutually by international and American students. However, there is a discrepancy between assumption and reality. If this is the case, whose responsibility is it to ensure the virtues of international students, the benefits of a diverse community and students’ intellectual development? Do international students have to bear the whole responsibility of failing to succeed in studying in the U.S? Controversially, when the U.S. institutions promote the diversity of student populations and knowledge exchange between American and international students, literature on interactions show divided results. Examples include U.S. students lack of interest in cross-cultural engagement (Glass et al., 2013), white students were less likely to interact across racial lines and participate in diversity-related functions than their minority peers (Cole, 2007) and experiencing difficulty of making friends with Americans (Lee & Rice, 2007).
As a result of these findings, it appears institutions stating to honor diversity and internationalization do not provide to support to ensure a positive experience for international students. Should we rethink the issue of international students difficulties and challenges when studying in America? Should institutions require international students to adjust to the host culture or should they pay more attention to accommodate their needs? Without question, if we value the difference and think diversity is important and makes a difference for all students, institutions should take interventions to create an environment that provide interracial activities, promote cultural exchange and support intellectual development for students.
Cole, D. (2007). Do interracial interactions matter? An examination of student-faculty contact and intellectual self-concept. The Journal of Higher Education,78(3), 249-281.
Glass, C. R., Buus, S., & Braskamp, L. A. (2013). Uneven experiences: What’s missing and what matters for today’s international students. Chicago, IL: Global Perspective Institute, Inc.
Lee, J. J., & Rice, C. (2007). Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination. Higher Education, 53(3), 381-409.
Institution of International Education, (2014), Open Doors Data. Retrieved from http://www.iie.org/Research-and-Publications/Open-Doors/Data/International-Students
Penn State (2015). Internationals at Penn State: Highlights for Fall 2012, Global Penn State. Retrieved from https://global.psu.edu/info/internationals-psu/more-information/internationals-penn-state-highlights-fall-2012-6
Penn State (2015). Penn State expands its global reach, opening new international centers. Retrieved from http://news.psu.edu/story/349118/2015/03/23/academics/penn-state-expands-its-global-reach-opening-new-international