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Foreign Students Adjustment Issues in USA Graduate Programs

Minority students often grapple with various social, economic, cultural and financial difficulties in the course of their study. These are further compounded by the racial prejudice and stereotypes that the rest of the students accord them. Barton (2005) indicates that these culminate in isolation that has various adverse implications on the holistic wellbeing of these students. The isolation theory indicates that these prejudices lead to a state of disengagement. This is characterized by a feeling of lack of any form of support and/or membership from the entire community. Students experiencing this tend to avoid the rest of the students in almost all contexts. Murray (2008) explains that they keep to themselves, are often sad for no apparent reason and do not socialize with others. It can not be disputed that his has far reaching implications on both the academic performance of the students and the institutional wellbeing of the same. Orleans (1998) asserts that Asian and African students experience this are often distressed.

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At the institutional level, The International Association (2010) indicates that isolation culminates in to uneven testing of the students. It is because of the belief that students that are lively and active tend to perform better than their counterparts. This then leads to potentially inaccurate and skewed distribution of the grades amongst the students. With regard to academics, isolation leads to poor grades irrespective of the fact that the minority students could have exemplary academic ability. Usually, it prevents the minority students from being accorded a fair assessment of their academic ability. This is due to the fact that it prevents them from participating effectively in the process of learning. Coupled with prejudices and stereotypes, Mcmahon (2010) contends that isolation undermines the capacity of the minority students to explore their capability effectively.

Isolation also makes the minority students to be kept out of vital informal networks (Knight & Witt, 2005). The informal networking systems have been cited to be important at the institutional level as they are they provide a platform through which vital information is communicated. Law students that participate in these often have a chance to link up with other members of the faculty. These include upper class students and instructors. As a result, they are able to seek relevant advice accordingly. Notably, this disadvantages the minority students who are excluded from the system.

Isolation also denies the minority students a chance to access pivotal information regarding survival in the institution and outlines regarding examinations and how the students can navigate through the system successfully. This makes it difficult for these students to deal with emergent problems with ease. Further, Hayward (2000) indicates that isolation makes the minority students to associate with low achieving study groups. Their passive nature makes them miss a chance of joining more competitive study groups that would enable them grasp the concepts with ease. In most cases, these students tend to study alone or adrift to study groups that are less achieving. Ultimately, this undermines their ability to attain good grades at the end of their study.

Racial Stereotypes

Usually, students from black and Asian origins are considered to be inferior to the rest of the White population. The negative cultural portrayals perceive them to be less intelligent than their counterparts from Europe. In particular, Cumings (2001) ascertains that they are categorized as ‘beneficiaries of the affirmative action program’. In other words, they are considered to be unqualified for law school. This perception makes these students assume a feeling of inferiority that prevents them from participating actively in class. This has negative effects as it makes the students for Asian and African background to be excluded from vital study groups that are created by the White students. As such, they are unlikely to be exposed to upper class students that are successful. In addition, they have a limited chance to be exposed to professionals who have vital information and advice regarding law.

Previous researches indicate that the White population hardly understands the nature of the African students. Thus they rely on internalized stereotypes that make it difficult for the students from Africa to be understood for who they are. This is a sure source of stress as the stereotypes prevent the African students from participating effectively in the process of learning. Asian students on the other hand are usually considered to be reserved quiet and non assertive. Essentially, this assertion seeks to emphasize respect for the authorities and harmony. As a result, Coleman (2007) shows that they are often reluctant to share their feelings, opinions, emotions, oppositions and challenges with the rest of the populations. Likewise, since these stereotypes are internalized, it becomes increasingly difficult for the instructors and other students to understand and appreciate the values and attitudes of individual Asian students. In addition, Baldi and Khalf (2000) ascertain that these stereotypes have denied the minority students a chance to take up various opportunities that are would be beneficial to their wellbeing. In the long run, their personal rights and the chance to exercise assertive communication has been compromised.

One of the most important issues that law students from minority ethnic communities have to struggle with is the method of instruction. At this juncture, it is worth noting that the present day law students are a product of a technological era. Therefore, it would be imperative to ensure that the instruction method meets their personal needs. In his review, Chandler (1998) affirms that the present day classrooms are characterized by a high level of diversity. Understanding the individual needs of the students is therefore important in ensuring that the process of learning is effective.

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Conventionally, the classroom context usually has different types of learners. To begin with, the visual are usually very fast talkers and they exhibit a sense of impatience when learning. In addition, this type of learners has a tendency of interrupting the learning process. They generally learn by visualizing and or seeing and using phrases and words that basically evoke visual images (Callan, 2000). The Kinesthetic learners on the other hand tend to be very slow talkers. They are also very slow at making decisions during the process of learning. Further, this type of learners usually prefers engaging all their senses when learning. Holt (2010) explains that they best learn by doing as well as solving practical problems. They can effectively handle hands on problems and tend to learn through the process of trial and error. Thus they prefer internships and a learning environment that is interactive in nature.

Vestal and Robert (2004) indicate that verbal learners rely on written information for effective learning. In particular, they increasingly utilize written articles such as articles and textbooks. On the contrary, the oral learners learn effectively through talking about their different ideas. In classroom contexts, Alquire, Gerald and Vijay (2008) point out that that such learners tend to talk more than the rest of the students. In addition, they benefit immensely fro study groups and discussion groups. They enjoy sharing the information they have read with their peers. Finally, aural learners learn best by listening to the information provided by their peers and/or instructors. They prefer lectures and discussions to individual study. In classrooms, they tend to listen more than take lectures. In his study, Barton (2005) ascertains that such students may even carry tape recorders in lecture halls.

The Socratic method of instruction is commonly employed in teaching law. Numerous studies of whom Hawkins and William (2000) are represented ascertain that the Socratic Method is usually complex for beginners. Often, the instructor allows a student to present a case in class for analysis. Irrespective of the fact that the student might exhibit a high level of accuracy and thoroughness, the instructor manipulates the facts and grilles the student to the minor details of the presented case. The nonparticipating students have a chance to question their assumptions regarding the question under review. According to Barrow (2001), this is instrumental in sharpening the critical and general reasoning skills of the students. Ultimately, it is posited that this prepares the students to deal effectively with tough judges in a real work environment. However, the underlying ruthlessness has been cited to lead to an adversarial relationship between the students and the instructor. Usually, this has various implications to already vulnerable minority students.

Generally, it should be appreciated that the teaching styles employed in Asian and African countries differ considerably from those employed in Western countries. Usually, instructors in these contexts seek to further the learning styles of the students in order to enhance effective learning. Therefore, the challenges that students from these backgrounds face are actually anticipated. With regard to the content of the given discipline, Van (1999) posits that Asian students are often provided with all information regarding the course content by their instructors. This is unlike the Whites that are expected to find the information and acquaint themselves with the same accordingly. In his review, Simon (2000) argues that Asian students are provided with all the information because they lack the vital resources to find this individually. The passive nature of their process of learning leads to incidences of memorization that undermines their ability to think critically.

Usually, Mestenhauser and Elenbaer (1999) indicate that the Asian and African learning institutions provide a limited chance for their students to engage in active and interactive earning. Ideally, the students expect their instructors to provide them with all solutions to the identified problems. This is contributed to by various factors that are both structural and non structural in nature. In this respect, Callan (2000) argues that the isolation that they are exposed after admission in higher institutions in US kills their self esteem. The subsequent disengagement in the process of learning makes them participate minimally in formal and informal discussions. As indicated earlier, they prefer studying individually and associate with less competitive learning groups. This compromises their ability to develop critical and analytic skills that are fundamental in law. In the long run, the performance of students from Asian and African backgrounds tends to be much lower than those of their counterparts from European countries. In general, Murray (2008) contends that the individualism and competitiveness exhibited in the American learning institutions makes the minority students feel uncomfortable about coping with the same.

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Also, Holt (2010) asserts that students from the Asian and African backgrounds tend to place greater emphasis on collectiveness and working together towards a distinct goal. This compromises their individual ability to become resourceful as they do not engage in in-depth research on the pretext that their peers and/or instructors would help them in solving the problems. By the end of the study, these students are usually not well informed about all facets of their course. The limited knowledge that they accumulate during the course of their study makes it difficult for them to pass their examinations because of their inability to respond to the questions in an exhaustive manner. In the long run, they perform poorly both in their academic and professional sphere.

The minority students studying within the also face challenges that stem from language difficulties. In order to fit within the higher learning institution abroad, knowledge of the basic language used for communication is of essence. In his study, Watson et al (2002) indicates that universities within the US adopt English as the sole language of communication. Hence African students and other students from non English speaking backgrounds are expected to be proficient in English in order to cope with the learning process. Aries (2008) also shows that English is also used as a single language of communication and thus students that are not proficient in the same find it difficult to effectively communicate.

This shifts their attention away from academics and coupled with other forms of discrimination, such students’ education is highly compromised. Aries (2008) asserts that they spend significant periods of time trying to understand the assignments and for those with minimal proficiency in languages being used in the foreign countries, it even becomes difficult to understand the lectures. This impacts negatively on their overall performance as their counterparts are at an advantage in this regard. Furthermore, they are discriminated against by their peers because of lack of proficiency in English.

In his study Watson et al (2002) affirms that foreign students are often harassed by both the instructors and their fellow students. The Africans attending education in higher institutions often fall victims of derogatory remarks from their Hispanic and White counterparts. Surveys carried out in the recent past indicate that incidences of use of sarcasm when referring to students from minority races in these higher institutions are a common affair (Brown-glaude, 2009). In particular, Blacks are often teased about their skin color, verbally abused and in some extreme cases bullied. A recent survey carried out in the US universities showed that most of the bullying and verbal abuse is carried out by students although in some cases, instructors also engage in the same (Brown-glaude, 2009). Further, the survey reported that Blacks complained that educators failed to make timely interventions in cases of harassment. Worse still, the educators who are ethically expected to shun the practice at times trigger and perpetuate it through discussions carried out in the class room context.

Aries (2008) shows that most international students are faced with the problems of loneliness and isolation, which make them susceptible to home sickness. Further, he indicates that making and keeping friends in a new country can be very tricky for them. This is even more complicated in countries whose inhabitants are racists. In such cases, Aries (2008) explains that the students have to deal with racist problems both inside the institution as well as outside it. It takes long to establish stable social relations in such environments and thus foreign students increasingly suffer from loneliness and isolation.

In their review, Pascarella and Patrick (2005) also show that the practice of name calling by native students often provokes the international students to engage in fights and other forms of violent behavior. As a result, they are the most affected with discipline, yet it is initiated by the racist students that belong to the majority race. Most parents and family members whose relatives fall victims of this have affirmed that indeed, their children find it difficult to effectively pursue their higher education abroad (Brown-glaude, 2009). Additionally, Brown-glaude (2009) ascertains that the respective relatives felt that the teachers discriminated against their students by taking measures that virtually enhance discrimination amongst students.

Aries (2008) posits that in other cases, foreign students are harassed and called names basing on their cultural wellbeing. Additionally, their culture is not appreciated and the students belonging to the majority race engage in activities that demean the cultural beliefs of the students that belong to the minority race. This results in loss of confidence that has massive implications on their academic performance (Aries, 2008). Insensitive activities in this regard are exemplified by the advertisement of racial party by White students from Ohio State University with an invitation containing a man sleeping underneath a sombrero. This contravenes the cultural beliefs of the Mexicans and it was perceived to imply the highest level of insensitivity to the Mexican Community (Brown-glaude, 2009).

Further, recent reports indicate that some instructors resent giving the foreign students any form of academic support on the basis of their racial grounds (Brown-glaude, 2009). The foreign students, already faced with linguistic challenges then find it difficult to excel in their academics. Some native students literary resent involving themselves in academic groups that are comprised of foreign students. They prefer handling their assignments with the students that they share the same race.

In his consultative survey in USA, Aries (2008) points out that the rental prices of houses in foreign countries is often very competitive and in most instances, it places international students at a disadvantage. Since they are unaware of their rental rights, Aries (2008) shows that; they are left at the mercy of the deceitful land lords who continuously exploit them. This is often common especially when the entire population is inconsiderate of the welfare of students from Asian and African backgrounds. Further, Flowers (2004) points out that in the US, native tenants are preferred to foreigners because of the cultural familiarity that characterizes them. He shows that in some cases, universities, colleges and other institutions of higher learning knowingly raise prices of rental and refrigeration services of the foreign student

According to Aries (2008), violence that stems from discrimination against minority students is a common incidence in international institutions of higher learning. This occurs as a form of retaliation to the racism or as a form of racist harassment. Ideally, it takes various forms that range from fighting, damage of property belonging to students, pushing and/ or shoving physical attacks and assaults and in extreme cases serious attacks by racists gangs. In his study, Watson et al (2002) points out that usually, these learning institutions perceive violence as more serious than bullying and name calling and therefore impose stringent sanctions like suspension to the perpetrators. However, the process of finding the right perpetrators is usually complicated and studies point out that often, the victims rather than the bullies are punished (Brown-glaude, 2009; Flowers, 2004). Again this is also considered to be perpetuated by the discriminatory positions that are assumed by the administrators of the institutions.

Various authors of whom Watson et al (2002) and Aries (2008) are representative ascertain that often, Asian and African students struggle with culture shock on arrival in new countries. Cultural diversity is an inherent aspect of the present society and increasingly, international students are forced to grapple with cultural aspects that they are not familiar to. In this respect, some find it difficult to cope with the type of food consumed in the new countries while some find it equally difficult to assume the basic cultural values found in their new destination.

Additionally, the language accent has also been cited as one of the aspects of culture that distinguishes international students from the natives and broadens the gap between them (Aries, 2008). Failure to fully satisfy the behavioral expectations of the new society places the students at a disadvantage because then, they are disregarded by the natives. Flowers (2004) points out that sensitive issues related to religion and mode of dressing have also been identified to contribute significantly to the negative perceptions that the international students are accorded. Additionally, Aries (2008) notes that the mere failure to behave as expected segregates the international students from the entire students body in the particular institutions.

Aries (2008) indicates that technology is also a source of culture shock especially for students from countries that are not technologically advanced like those in Asia and Africa. Thus on arrival in the international higher institutions, they are forced to further their technological awareness for them to be at par with their counterparts and operate effectively in a technologically advanced environment. Comparatively, this limits the amount of time that they spend on academics and undermines their performance too.

Additionally, Flowers (2004) shows that the system of functioning of different sectors in the foreign country socially disorients the international students. A classic example would be the unique functioning of sectors like the health and welfare systems in United States (Aries, 2008)

Watson et al (2002) indicates that usually, higher learning institutions give preference to the native students when allocating bursaries, scholarships and other forms of financial aid. This acts as an incentive because fundamentally, these institutions aim at enhancing the level of education in their countries before addressing the global concerns regarding education. As a result, some of the institutions even charge the international students more fees than the native students (Watson et al., 2002). This makes the international students assume part time jobs in order to supplement the financing of their education. This is often difficult in most states because finding the jobs is always very difficult. The situation is further compounded by the limited skills that minority students have. According to Flowers (2004), this explains the high rate of drop out incidences of international students who face difficulties in financing their education. Additionally, a study conducted in three top higher education institutions in the US in 2008 indicated that most international students, especially those from Africa and Asia discontinue their education because of lack of financial resources and in particular because of lack of jobs to that would help them earn extra money for sustenance (Brown-glaude, 2009).

Aries (2008) shows that in some cases, international students are faced with numerous problems when processing their education visas. This results in to delays and in most instances, they obtain their visas just before the beginning of the programs the have applied for. Apparently, this does not give them sufficient time to familiarize themselves with the new learning environment. Furthermore, studies show that failure to renew the visas in a timely manner attracts huge financial fines. To a group that is already financially vulnerable, this impacts negatively upon their academic performance. Additionally, Watson et al (2002) notes that the process of lengthening their visas is complex and very complicated. This not only wastes their time that could have otherwise been used for academic work but also makes them anxious and worried about the future of their education. Again, this affects their academic performance because it has massive implications on their psychological wellbeing.

Recent surveys indicate that in some cases, the accessibility of basic education resources to the foreign students is limited (Brown-glaude, 2009). While this might be uncommon in higher institutions of learning, Aries (2008) indicates that it is widely practiced during seminars and workshops. At this point in time, it should be appreciated that these avenues also provide ambient environments for learning to take place. In particular, education forums and discussions organized by higher institutions of learning and the respective ministries in the given countries are very important because of their interactive and informative nature. Aries (2008) affirms that restricting the accessibility and ultimate utilization of such resources to the foreign student impacts negatively on their academic performance. Above all, it kills their morale and their motivation because the consider themselves alienated. In some cases, Aries (2008) points out that these students are even restricted from using basic resources like labs on the basis of their race. Again, this adversely affects the performance of such students and places them at a disadvantage. They do not have the impetus to compete favorably with their native counterparts.

Often, foreign students are expected to cope with the new structure and system of education that they could not have experienced back in their countries. A study conducted in US indicated that students from Asia and Africa are often not used to frequent assignments and midterms (Brown-glaude, 2009). This also posses a challenge to them because then, they have to devise ways to cope with the challenges associated with the same. Notably, failure to cope effectively impacts upon their academic performance.


From the review, it can be ascertained that international students are faced with various issues in the US higher institutions of learning. These range from financial to social, cultural and environmental and they all undermine the ability of the students to perform well in their studies. Of great concern however is the racial prejudice that is apparent in higher institutions of learning on a global scale. This undermines the process of learning by perpetuating tensions and feelings of inadequacy for foreign students taking law. Thus they do not effectively participate in the learning process for fear of being ridiculed, bullied or harassed.

Racial bias has also permeated other institutions which either directly or indirectly impact upon higher education. This is exemplified by the bureaucracies associated with processing education visas as well as the racial attitudes that are assumed by land lords and the entire public. It is therefore important for the relevant stakeholders to take counteractive measures in order to provide a viable learning environment for the foreign students. In order to enhance sustainability, these measures need to be based upon a clear understanding of the culture of foreign students.

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