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The growing number of international students pursuing higher education in the UK is increasing annually. This report takes a comprehensive looks at the different issues international students face when they arrive to study in the UK as they have to adapt to a new environment. This report aims at increasing awareness among prospective students as to what to expect during their course of study in the UK, as well as among UK universities to further their understanding for foreign students and facilitate assistance.
This report discusses the root cause – culture shock, of the difficulties international students face when studying in the UK. It then progresses to discuss the problems that arises from culture shock that students are faced with: student-teacher role relationships using cultural concepts like high-power distance to discuss the problem in comparison to the UK exploring problems arising from the differing roles and expectations foreign students encounter in the UK that can lead to poor performance and a sense of being left alone. It also lays claim to other problem arising from the issue of culture shock that students face – assessment strategies, managing finances and time management
The report concludes that the increasing internationalization of higher education in the UK can only be successful if the issues international students struggle with in the UK are taken seriously and make a recommendation of adequate training for all the parties concerned.
In a globalizing world, migration is on the rise and studying abroad is rapidly increasing. In the UK, earnings form cross-border education has become a significant source of income. Every year, UK higher education offered to international students yields about £12.5 billion and according to the Global Student Mobility 2025 report, growth in the international education sector is far from reaching its limits (Qing, 2009).
The consequence is a continuously increasing flow of foreign students entering the UK to pursue a degree in higher education. For many foreign students starting a course of study is accompanied by the struggle of adapting to the new environment as they face an unfamiliar culture, challenging studying expectation and a range of rules and regulations they have to learn about.
This report addresses some of the issues foreign students struggle with when coming to the UK for their course of study. It aims at increasing awareness of potential sources of problems for international students, thereby facilitating foreign students to better prepare and UK universities to better understand and help international students.
The report will look into five different aspects of international student life in the UK.
The first part deals with the issue of culture shock that international students usually experience through the course of their study; then the topic of funding is discussed as many foreign students have to find a side job to support their stay in the UK; the third part points out the difficulties arising from differing views concerning plagiarism; next, the expectations regarding student-teacher relationships students of different origins are identified and the problems arising from the discrepancies are addressed; in the last part, ???
This paper is based on secondary research from books, academic journals, newspapers and the internet. Due to a limited report frame, only a narrow perspective on the topic of studying in the UK can be provided. The report therefore does not claim exhaustiveness but nevertheless establishes a valuable basis for information about issues, foreign students struggle with when coming to the UK.
Culture for our present purpose could be described as a way of life while shock could be described as an abnormal state of being that results from a sudden unexpected occurrence. Bearing in mind these basic explanations of the two terms, it can be suggested that the feelings one gets as a result of the difference that is experienced between the familiar culture that exists in ones country with the unfamiliar culture in another country that one temporarily moves to could in some way describe the experience of culture shock. The many attempts by psychologist to define this experience and identify the accompanying symptoms are of the general consensus that this concept is experienced without exception in one form or another by all new members to a culture. A new member to a culture includes one who temporary moves from their country of origin or a particular area where one culture exists into a new country or another area where a new or different culture exist. The new member is referred to as a sojourner (Ward et all, p. 21). International students in the UK who essentially come into the country to pursue a course of study are new members to the UK culture and like all other temporary residents in a country other than their country of origin are sojourners who experience culture shock.
There have been many attempts by researchers to demonstrate the differences between cultures (Smart, 2010). Among them are Edward Hall – monochromic vs. polychronic, Fon Trompenaars and Charles Hampden Turner – universalism vs. particularism, but the most popular of these are the cultural dimensions proposed by Geer Hofstede for assessing culture: – individualism vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. feminism, small vs. large power distance, weak vs. strong uncertainty avoidance, and long vs. short term orientation. The individualist culture will place more emphasis on individual attribute in contrast with the collectivist culture that dwells on a group mentality. The masculine culture reflects a preference for quantity of life in contrast with the feminist culture that reflects the quality of life. The cultures with low power distance have less regard for hieratical structure while those with high power distance thrive on it. The cultures with weak uncertainty avoidance tend to operate with flexible rules and indulge in more risk taking, while those with strong uncertainty avoidance tend to operate with rigid rules that allow for less risk taking. The UK culture, according to Hofstede’s framework, is predominantly individualistic, highly masculine, small in power distance and weak in uncertainty avoidance. The majority of international students that come to the UK are from cultures in Asia, Africa and Europe with significantly different cultures from that of the UK thereby experiencing adverse culture.
The process of culture shock occurs when the sojourner is suddenly faced with carrying out normally familiar tasks in an unfamiliar way and is forced to adapt to an environment that is very different from what the sojourner is used to. This new state of affairs is often as a result of, amongst other factors, the prevalence of a new language, the ignorance of required reactions to emerging challenging scenarios and the inability to socialize adequately (Smart, 2010). This usually causes excitement, anxiety, confusion, frustration, isolation, loneliness, guilt depression and the like that triggers other associated reactions that Robert Kohl (1984) identifies as homesickness, withdrawal, boredom, irritability, chauvinism, stereotyping, restlessness/restfulness, gluttony/starvation, excessive drinking, social tension, hostility and so on(in Smart, 2010). Eventually, the majority of sojourner slowly assimilate to a reasonable extent to allow them achieve their desired goal.
This description of the process of culture shock has been analysed by psychologist as occurring in different ways. Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) have put forward the most popular description of this process as occurring in a U curve that spans over six months whereby the sojourner reaction to the host culture deteriorates to the lowest ebb in the first three months and then appreciates in the following three months as the sojourner assimilates to the host’s culture (Smart, 2010). Milton Bennett (1986) presented a developmental model experienced by one placed in an unfamiliar environment. The model involves a gradual shift from a position of ethnocentrisms to one of ethnorelativism whereby the sojourner goes through six different stages, the first three stages fall under the former position while the last three stages come under the latter position. The first ethnocentric stage is the denial stage where the sojourner denies every facet of the host culture because it is alien to the culture the sojourner is familiar with. The second ethnocentric stage is the defence stage where the sojourner being aware of the conflict of culture attempts to defend that culture which the sojourner is familiar with as absolute. The third ethnocentric stage is the minimisation stage where the sojourner recognises that differences, although viewed insignificantly, exist between the cultures. The first ethnorelative stage is the acceptance stage where the sojourner realises that no culture is absolute but simply a variant, no values is a right simply a norms and differences are accepted. The second etnorelative stage is the adaptation stage where the sojourner adapts the host culture to compliments the sojourners culture. The third ethnorelative stage is the integration stage where the sojourner integrates the different cultural experiences to create a multicultural identity (Smart, 2010).
There has been extensive research into those attributes that help to mitigate the adverse effects of culture shock experienced by sojourners. Among the findings include: a willingness to communicate, a less rigid approach to cultural differences, a diversified position, an all embracing interaction style and accommodating outlook (Smart, 2010). By adopting these actions the sojourner is equipped with a newly emerged multi-cultural advantage that will boost the sojourners confidence in whatever endeavour that is undertaken.
Consequently, International students in the UK as sojourners experiencing culture shock similarly on these levels are able to adopt these broad initiatives the to cope with the different academic culture that studying in the UK presents them with: role relationships, assessment strategies, time orientation, managing finances, modes of persuasion ethical issues and the like.
The student-teacher relationship greatly differs among countries. The adjustment to Western standards represents a challenge for many foreign students coming to the UK for their higher education. The discrepancies concerning the teacher and student role as well as expectations deriving from these roles are especially evident among students originating from collectivist countries and countries with a high power distance (Qing, 2009), such as China, India or Pakistan.
The UK lecturers see their role as facilitating students to learn by themselves rather than teaching them exactly what they need to know (Bailey, 2005). This very implicit way of teaching, where no direct instructions are given as to reading specific books or articles, leaves much room for creativity and independence on the part of the student. The lecturers therefore expect their students to show “independence and initiative” (Edwards and Ran, 2006, p.6) by developing their individual way of approaching assignments and exams and engaging in research where they, on their own, have to identify relevant sources, set limitations and decide on the extent of their work.
Furthermore, lecturers consider themselves collegial contact persons that students can talk to on a common level. They encourage students to speak up during classes and welcome discussions and challenging questions. They do not consider themselves as the only valid source of information and learning but believe that every student can contribute knowledge beneficial to the whole class. The emphasis on being on an equal level becomes especially obvious as UK lecturers encourage their students to address them by their first name.
Although being on the same level, UK teachers do not think of themselves as being friends with their students. There usually is a firm separation between the lecturer’s professional and private life. They welcome student interaction during class as well as their appointed office hours but expect students to respect their free leisure time. Topics individually discussed with the lecturer usually concern relevant issues to the course of study, not private problems.
The dynamics of a class room in a high power distance country is very different. The lecturer is the only person talking while all students actively participate by listening. A student will only talk if he/she is directly asked to do so by the teacher. It would be considered disrespectful to question the lecturer as this might cause a loss of face. The teacher is the only source of knowledge and presents the content of the course’s text books, which the students, in turn, are expected to learn by heart (Edwards and Ran, 2006). Instructions, as to what students are supposed to read and learn are therefore very clear and direct.
Although the student-teacher relationship during the lecture is very distant, outside of class it can well become much closer. In China, for example, the lecturer not only has a teaching role but goes as far as adopting a form of parental and guiding role (Bailey, 2005). Students may seek advice not solely in academic situations but also when confronted with private and personal problems. It is not uncommon for lecturers to see students at their private house and regularly talk to them over the phone.
The differences between the teaching styles and expectations lead to a variety of problems.
Due to the “shift of responsibility” (Qing, 2009, p.43), foreign students in the UK from these cultures are often confused as to what they are expected to do. The lack of explicit instructions leaves them overstrained with possibilities and uncertain about where to start and how to proceed. Their perceived lack of direction often leads to poor performance. Also, since they are not used to posing direct questions to lecturers or authors, they often “lack critical and analytical skills” (Bailey, 2005, p.10) or feel uncomfortable expressing their critique as in their country this would be considered disrespectful. They therefore prefer to remain quiet during the class and are not at ease with critical reports. Again, this might be negatively reflected in their grades.
In addition, many foreign students coming to the UK feel left alone by their lecturers. They expect their teachers to support and advise them and make time for them whenever they are in need for help. As they often do not want to interrupt the lecture they prefer to ask their questions after the class is concluded. By then, the UK lecturer often already is on his/her way to the next appointment and as they only offer private conversations through appointments. As a result, foreign students tend to perceive UK teachers as uncaring and too busy (Edwards and Ran, 2006).
Lastly, considering the problems posed by this newly experienced student-teacher role relationship to many international students arriving into the UK, it is very important for the lecturers to recognize their challenges, show understanding and maybe even offer additional assistance. However, the main effort, though, has to be made by the foreign students themselves. They have to learn how to adapt and show initiative and drive. As a result their experience in western higher education will help them to become more independent and will lead to personal growth.
Assessment strategies is concerned with the different way a student competence to obtain a UK qualification is judged. These range from not just written exams but also coursework, project, presentations, area studies, field research, reports, and so on. The student’s ability to work with other is also often assessed giving rise to a lot of group assessments. There is a lot of emphasis on creative uses of source materials that is accompanied with the ethical issues of due acknowledgement of any source material used because failure to abide to these practices results in plagiarism. The international student coming from culture that have less varied assessment strategies usually experience difficulties adjusting to this new state of affairs until they learn to adopt the UK assessment culture.
The cost of obtaining a UK educational qualification through studying in the UK is relatively high. The associated maintenance cost is also relatively high and as a result the international student is allowed to take up part time employment spanning no more than 20 hrs a week during term time while the restriction is relaxed during the holidays. The ability to study work part time and meet other financial obligations like study materials, living expense leisure and holiday that emerge is what organising finances is concerned with and it also creates tough challenges for the international student studying in the UK when encounters a culture that is different form what the student is familiar with.
Time management has to do with the way the international student in the UK is able to find an adequate balance between academic study life and all other extracurricular activities the international student decides to get involved with. The strict adherence to time orientation that is prevalent in the UK is also present in academic practice and this tends to affect the international student if this time orientation is not a feature of the students’ culture.
CONCLUTION AND RECCOMENDATION
This report has attempted to briefly point out some aspects contributing to the difficulties the international students from other cultures face in adapting to their study environment in the UK.
The issue of culture shock that pervades through the findings sets the framework used to explain how and why international students coming to the UK from other cultures are affected and then explores those other areas of studying in the UK that students face the most difficulties. These other areas include student-teacher relationships especially in high-power distance countries as compared to the UK paying attention to problems arising from the differing roles expectations and difficulties posed as a result of assessment strategies, managing finances and time orientation.
As internationalisation in UK universities increases, it is asserted that the importance of solving problems foreign students face becomes more pressing. International students planning to study in the UK need to become more aware of the possible challenges and prepare themselves better. Also, UK universities need to show better understanding for, and give more encouragement and assistance to international students.
Consequently it is recommended that adequate prior training is required for both the students and the universities to minimise the effect of culture shock. Unfortunately, the way and manner this will be carried out is not within the scope of this report.
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