This is a little different than my normal posts. I usually focus on the application process from the decision to go to graduate school to the application and enrollment stage. Today I’m going to go a little bit farther, and focus on the transition to graduate studies for international students coming to the United States. If you’ve never studied or visited the US, it might not be very easy in the beginning of your time as a graduate student. The more different you are culture is from American culture, the harder the transition may be. The more different you are educational system is, the harder your transition may be. The stronger your family bonds are, the more difficult the transition may be.
Here are some practical tips for adjusting to life as an international student whose life native language is not English.
Record your lectures
Bring a recording device with you to school. Students whose native language is not English will find themselves in classes with many native language English speakers throughout their graduate education. If your native language is other than English, you may find it difficult to keep up with classroom conversations. In American higher education interaction in the classroom is a vital part of the learning process. It is important that you be able to understand classroom discussions, and also contribute verbally in the classroom. This can be especially hard when studying in a second language, and also because in many educational systems it is not a typical students participate in a dialogue or discussion inside the classroom. Indeed in many parts of the world students are not encouraged to speak up on all the classes and professors dislike that. In America it is very normal and some times part of your grade can be related specifically to your contributions in the classroom. If you have trouble understanding what your colleagues say, record the class lectures and dialogue and replay it after class make sure that you understand what it’s being said and what the conversation is. It is also important for you to speak up in class.
Get a study buddy
Make friends with somebody in the classroom and let them become your “study buddy”. Spend time with them outside of the classroom to review and discuss lectures and assignments. This technique helps you get complete notes and better understanding of subject material when it is possible to miss details by yourself. In this situation, you help each other equally.
Read material before class
If you’re having trouble understanding the lecture material in the classroom, prepare for the lectures ahead of time. You can usually do this easily by looking at the syllabus and reading the appropriate materials before class starts so that you know what to expect and you will recognize terminology and topics as they,. This takes some of the burden off of your English skills and prevents confusion in many cases.
Tell professors how you are doing
If you find yourself falling behind in classes, immediately see the professor and tell them about your challenges. If they did not know that you are falling behind they cannot offer you any suggestions assistance or solution. Not every faculty member will have solutions for you but sharing your challenges is a sign of strength that you’re mature enough to manage your situation and it’s the mark of a professional to be in control of themselves. Approach the faculty member as if you are seeking advice but not solutions. They will be more receptive if you are looking for something that you can do to solve this problem instead of asking for them to solve the problem for you.
Going to a new country is not easy, studying in a second language is not easy, but these challenges can be overcome with a little effort on your part. You must push yourself to try things you haven’t tried before and get out of your comfort zone a little bit in order to achieve success.
If you are starting a graduate degree now, congratulations on your success getting into the program. Good luck with your adjustment to the new environment, and best wishes for success!