As we all know, the past year has been a contentious time in the United States, including an ongoing health pandemic, continuous racial conflicts, and global political conflicts. As such, students in higher education have had to maneuver through multiple stressful events. Yet international students, as relatively new community members, are often left out of the conversation when discussing how the many contemporary events affect student learning and engagement in U.S. higher education.

Ultimately, graduate faculty and staff should ensure that they create a positive learning environment for international students. This includes asking questions, reaching out, and providing assistance as international students try to navigate the increasingly complex environment in higher education and in the U.S. context.  In doing so, we can ensure that our international students feel included and supported during their time in our academic programs.

Based on my research and personal experiences as a higher education faculty, I offer the following suggestions below for supporting international students in our classrooms and academic programs.

  1. Familiarize yourself with immigration policies. Seek out information from your institution’s International Students and Scholars (ISS) office, including the multiple types of visas that international students may be issued. Most importantly, stay updated on any policy changes that may affect students in your program. For example, the sudden proclamation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on July 6, 2020 caused panic for many international students who were told they could not take a fall course load consisting of fully online classes. Although the policy was later rescinded, the reverberations from that sudden announcement continues to affect international students’ feelings of security in the United States.
  2. Provide overviews of U.S. history and context. Current events, especially those related to race and politics, are rooted in the foundations of U.S. sociohistorical perspectives. Thus, international students who are new to the U.S. may not be familiar with the racial dynamics, and more importantly, may not be aware that they may become (re)racialized beings in the U.S. In addition, topics of free speech and academic freedom are currently permeating media; thus, providing insights on what these concepts may mean for international students would be beneficial.
  3. Develop a network of support. International students are often considered to fall under the purview of the International Students and Scholars (ISS) offices. However, I argue that all offices at the university are responsible for all students’ success, which includes international students. Also, graduate students often feel a greater sense of connection to their academic programs and academic mentors than to the larger institution. Thus, it is imperative that graduate faculty and staff establish a welcoming and supportive learning community for international students and scholars.
  4. Establish a supportive learning community. Learning often occurs outside of the formal classroom and lab spaces. As such, we have a responsibility for unveiling the hidden curriculum of living, working, and studying in the United States. For example, help international students experience U.S. culture, which includes holidays such as Halloween and Thanksgiving. Organize social programs that allow for international students and domestic students to interact beyond academic settings.
  5. Require onboarding and orientation to your program/lab. Office and/or lab cultures varies depending on the people, cultures, and institution; as a result, we cannot assume that new students know our office/lab cultures and we must be very clear about expectations. For example, are students required to work during student holidays such as spring break? In addition, clarify the expectations for ethical conduct of research based on your institution. International students’ previous trainings on things such as citation practices, using licensed software, and maintenance of data and research materials may vary, and thus being explicit about your expectations would be a valuable learning opportunity for all students.

More Resources

Why I Wrote “Mentoring Minority Trainees”

Teaching Tips Roundup

Triggering Shame vs. Stimulating Curiosity

PhD Scholarships in USA for International Students

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