Challenges for international students studying overseas

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A traveller crosses the first threshold when he steps outside the known world, to take on the ground of unknown. This phase associates to leaving parent country and over passing the cultural and physical threshold of foreign soil. There are clearly challenges for international students studying at higher institutions overseas. The first challenge concerns English language ability, or consideration of the fact that majority of international students are non native speaker of English.

The second issue is of social and cultural adjustment of the students in an unfamiliar culture called 'culture shock'. It is a state of disorientation and anxiety about not knowing how to behave in an unfamiliar culture. It is an experience depicted by people who have travelled overseas to study, live or work. The culture shock's symptoms limit from mild irritation to deep seated psychological crisis or panic. The inability to work or study effectively, towards host nations is the common dysfunctional results of culture shock, which frequently leading to student or manager giving up and going home.

Moreover, different study methods compared to country of origin present additional difficulty for students. In many countries students spent much greater time in class with less emphasis on independent study and more focus on accomplishing the information rendered be lecturers in their sessions. It is valid to say that majority of students face a great deal of difficulty with the transition that is demanded to be done in a short span of time. For example, students need to synthesize with the required amount of reading in a critical way, with no additional inputs till assessment.

Culture shock is progressed through four stages, as presented by Oberg (1960): (1) honeymoon, when positive attitudes, excitement, expectations and tourist feeling prevail (which lasts up to several weeks); (2) irritation and hostility, the traumatic stage when cultural differences give rise to problems in classrooms, at work, at home and in daily living students and expatriates feel home sick and disorientated; (3) gradual adjustment, a phase of improvement in which the 'patient' slowly predicts the pattern of new culture and starts accepting it; and (4) biculturalism, the stage in which the students and expatriates starts appreciating the local culture and practices and study and work effectively in two cultures. Many never reach the fourth stage, but those do, achieve significant academic achievement. (Deresky, 2008)


The recent acceleration in student and knowledge flows internationally is the phenomenon of 'globalisation'. It clearly implies the economic integration for travel, work or study across borders. On the other hand students do return in their home countries for further study or to work, which not only impact their experience but beneficial for their home society.

Researchers argued that an inability to adjust to the overseas environment, comparatively than a lack of technical expertise is the leading aspect of a traveller premature return. A traveller whether he is an expatriate or student and his or her family members needs a support for their successful overseas retention. These support triggers with appropriate training courses and pre departure selection. The impact of family is major in the overall adjustment. Thus spouse should be included in pre departure training and initial interviews (Andreason, 2003). The disability of spouse to adjust was cited as the single most reason for expatriate premature return among U.S. and European firms (Andreason, 2003). It was also proved that the spouse and expatriate adjustment were significantly related to the expatriate intentions to stay in foreign assignment and not leave prematurely (Black & Stephens, 1989). Similarly, studied have found that the expatriate manger and that the children tend to mirror their parents reactions. The travellers spouse is more immersed in local culture, while an expatriate is shielded from local environment by the organization, and the children immersed in the continuity and routine of school, the spouse must often in unfamiliar network of family and friends, with improper language skills and without adequate social support program to assist in developing an appropriate lifestyle overseas (Alder, 1997). In addition, multinationals needs to render the expatriates and families with in-country support which aids them in work adjustment. Examples of direct support include (1) continuous communications with headquarters; (2) language and cultural training; (3) assistance from host-country staff in handling day-to-day living requirements such as grocery shopping, travel and schooling; (4) family mentoring programs where host-country employees provide social support by volunteering to 'adopt' a visiting family (Black & Stephens, 1989)Similarly, the adjustment process for the international student spouse is necessary to reduce the feeling of frustration and stress. This include (1) in depth pre arrival information to educate the couple about the visa restrictions to work to avoid future disappointments (2) on-going support groups which help the on-going spouse to diminish the foreign language problem and teaching non-verbal techniques (3) training workshops to indentify the emotional burden and further rectifying them by different health services (VERTHELYI, 1995).

The Initial Adjustment Stage of international students starts with their arrival, to reduce their culture shock. Activities like escorting students from airport, assisting them with finding housing, nourishing orient to the community could help diminishing stress from the transition. The Orientation programmes are followed to emphasize the foreign culture, university adjustment and language. In this stage students needs to be informed about racial and sexual harassment, stress management, health care system and other regulations. These programmes emphasize the importance of social networks to form a network with other local students from same country. These initiatives also help the students with resume writing and job hunting strategies. The contribution in class could be distressful, but this can be aided by lecturers through discussing subjects with students which they do not know. The significance of class interactions for international students is reinforced by Jackson (2003) who pointed on urgency for building a 'considerable rapport' with the groups. This rapport is extremely effective in teaching and learning techniques for international students. (Bamford, 2008).

Intercultural social interaction can enhance the personal development and provide opportunity for building global professional network (Clyne & Rizvi, 1998) (Pittaway, Ferguson, & Breen, 1998). An effective training programme called EXCELL (Excellence in Experiential Learning and Leadership) is available for international and migrants. It has resulted from collaboration between the author and Dr. Michelle Barker at Griffith University in Australia. This programme is designed to enhance the international student's skills and confidence in academics. It expedites a traveller's psychosocial adjustment in foreign atmosphere for social and educational success. The participants are allowed to apply the competencies based on real life scenario beyond the tenure of training. This programme is valued in countries like Canada, UK and Australia to train the students to adopt problem focussed rather than an avoidant approach. The programme triggers cross-cultural contact which further helps a traveller in building professional network with local students and low proximity fellows (Mak, Westwood, Barker, & Ishiyama, 1998).

Communication behaviour has long been considered an important factor in cultural adjustment (J.N.Martin, 1986). It plays an important variable in expatriate adjustment too. A system of supplying information and maintaining contacts with the traveller is vital, so that he or she may continue to feel a part of the organization. As an alternative to the mentor programme, the establishment of a special organizational unit which maintain the close ties with the expatriate, for the purpose of carrier planning and continuing guidance is logical. Similarly, family support provides the prime origin of social support of an international student. Researchers found a notable relationship between communication satisfaction and retention of expatriate, but a proof full connection between recurrence of communication and expatriate adjustment.

2.2 Personality development

(Yurkiewicz & Rosen, 1995) found that managers consider the opportunity to go abroad to be a mixed blessing. Personal challenge and professional development are more superior to opportunity for career advancement in influencing managers to accept an international assignment. The research laid down on the fruitful fact that a traveller is not to adjust a foreign culture, but to acquire skills of its salient traits. Overseas travel provide expatriate with a prospect to improve their collective management skills and intercultural competencies, assets important at higher organization levels (Gregersen, Morrison, & Black, 1998) (Mendenhall 2001). Recent studies suggest that there is positive relationship between a multinational corporation's (MNCs) ability to develop global leadership and its return on assets (Stroh & Caligiuri, 1998). Thus, the development of future leaders, who have 'global leadership abilities', is one of the prime concerns of the CEOs around the world. Some researchers posit that international assignments are the most significant experience in shaping the perspective and capabilities of effective global leaders (Black, Gregersen, Mendenhall, & Stroh, 1999). Many returning executives develops skills, as reported by (Adler, 1991), include the following:

Managerial skills, not technical skills: learning how to deal with a wide range of people, to adapt to their cultures through compromise, and not to be a dictator.

Tolerance for ambiguity: making decisions with less information and more uncertainty about the process and the outcome.

Multiple perspectives: learning to understand situations from the perspective of local employees and businesspeople.

Ability to work with and manage others: learning patience and tolerance-realizing that managers abroad are in the minority among local people; learning to communicate more with others and empathize with them.

2.3 Travel broadens the mind

Overseas experience depicts broader life experience in that the traveller illustrates polymorphic roles such as, adventurer, employee, culture-seeker, friend, and partner. However, the foreign experience could be unrealistic and less cosmopolitan, but the potential benefits could outweigh these costs. (Church, 1982) listed the following result found in his extensive review of literature: favourable attitude towards hosts increased appreciation of home culture, broader world view, reduction in ethnocentrism, increased cognitive complexity, and greater self awareness. The returned traveller become more independent, broadminded and more sensible that he can change things to make a difference (Inkson & Myers, 2003). The journey influences the career path and world view of the returner. It is not only essential for self growth but pushes a returner out of his comfort zone to his potential The overseas experience provides accelerated career advancement and higher salaries other than counterparts. Returning Indian students found more competitively placed for work in Multinational companies in India. The mature bicultural approach helps a returner, becoming a catalyst between the overseas officials and local employees in Multinational companies. The significant broader view could benefits the competitiveness of domestic innovations. The returned students would be extremely encouraged to talk about their past experiences and personality development. This will act as a resource and role model to the younger generation and will share what they have learnt abroad. Hence in developing country the most socio-economic problem is poverty, which could be diminished by the hope of country and its greatest resource i.e. 'people' through empowering indigenous innovation and business. (Colclough, 2003)

As the world grows smaller due to technological advances, it will require human beings who posses business mindsets and leadership skills to merge their efforts to create not just profits for their company, but a world worth living in for our children and us (Mendenhall, M., Kühlmann, & Stahl, 2001). It has been argued by organizational scholars that leadership is critical to organizational productivity. Thus, there is an urgency to develop the future leaders with global leadership qualities. The development of global leadership competencies involves setting ideas, people, organization, and societies in motion, on a journey. The returned (whether successful or unsuccessful) traveller bears a transformation, which allows him to see and think the world in unique way.