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Most students “overwhelmingly satisfied” with US study experience, but challenges remain

International students who chose the US are overwhelmingly satisfied (91%) with their experience, with more than three-quarters saying they feel welcome in the country, a new survey by World Education Services has shown. Despite this, many continue to face mental health, adjustment, and other challenges.

More than a quarter of international students said they do not have a strong social network at their school. Photo: Pexels

Just 56% of Chinese students said they have a strong social network

The report ‘Are US HEIs Meeting the Needs of International Students?’ is based on a 2019 survey of almost 2,000 current students and recent graduates, as well as an online focus group.

“Studying internationally… is also about embracing a new culture and forging lifelong relationships”

It indicates that 79% of international students feel welcome in the US, and that percentage is even higher (86%) for students from countries in the Middle East and North Africa—86%.

According to the WES survey, even students expressing the least satisfaction— those from South and Central Asia—are still highly satisfied (89%) with their experience.

This latest research offers a welcome counterpoint to new data from IIE’s 2019 Open Doors Report, which revealed the total number of international students in the US rose a marginal .05% from 2017/18 to 2018/19, and a stark 10.4% decline in new international enrolments since 2015/16.

“We’re very heartened by our findings,” said WES research associate Makala Skinner, one of the report’s co-authors.

“Studying internationally is about much more than bringing home a coveted degree—it is also about embracing a new culture and forging lifelong relationships.

“Our research suggests that students are still finding opportunities, even at a time when higher education institutions struggle to maintain international student numbers,” Skinner added.

Despite reporting positive experiences overall, survey respondents also noted a range of challenges.

“Given the overwhelming importance of peer relationships to the international student experience on US campuses, it is crucial for institutions to understand how they can encourage and facilitate relationships between students and break down pockets of isolation,” explained the authors.

But despite the importance of these relationships, more than a quarter of international students (29%) said they do not have a strong social network at their school, with Chinese students struggling in particular.

Just 56% of Chinese students said they have a strong social network, compared with 70% of Indian students.

However, the language barrier is a likely explanation for this difference, with Chinese students (41%) consistently using the English language support services at their school at almost twice the rate that Indian students (21%).

“It is particularly important for institutions to offer extraordinary student support services to international students”

Additionally, over a third (41%)  found it hard to form relationships with domestic students, while 31% reported facing discrimination due to their nationality.

East Asian students, particularly Chinese students (40%), are the most likely to experience discrimination based on their nationality, according to the WES survey.

Likewise, students from MENA (39%) and sub-Saharan Africa (34%) experience discrimination at higher levels.

European students (22%) are significantly less likely to experience discrimination based on their nationality, the report noted.

Other issues highlighted by respondents included the difficult challenge of overcoming cultural barriers (30%) and one-third also said the stress of schoolwork negatively affected their mental health.

The authors of the report concluded that institutions can provide exceptional support by listening to international student voices, tailoring programs and providing interventions to meet student needs from pre-arrival to graduation and beyond.

“In a time when xenophobic and insular political narratives dominate the world stage, it is particularly important for institutions to offer extraordinary student support services to international students,” they wrote.

“US HEIs have the power to combat intolerant, dogmatic policies and instead establish a collaborative, cross-cultural synergy of ideas and innovation.”

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