Integrating International Students into Your Class: 10 Ways to Smooth the Transition

Feb 19, 2019 | Guest blogger, Instructional content

The number of foreign students enrolling in schools has been increasing in the UK and elsewhere for several years now. There are undeniable benefits to this as students who learn alongside people from different countries gain perspectives that they would not otherwise have.

For educators, this trend also represents a real challenge. How do you integrate students into your class, make them feel welcome, and meet their unique needs? You can start by implementing these ten strategies.

1. Provide Students with The Local Experiences They Crave

Whether students are attending schools in other countries by choice or circumstance, most are interested in learning about local culture and lifestyle. As an instructor, you can help to facilitate their getting the experiences they desire. Consider arranging field trips to places that are local hangouts, expose students to local foods, and educate them about events and traditions that locals celebrate.

2. Guide Them to Opportunities to Get Involved on Campus and Off

It can be easy to assume that international students are outgoing, and will easily find opportunities to become engaged at school and elsewhere. In truth, that’s not always the case. Some students are introverted. Others simply get overwhelmed with the newness of it all, and the cultural differences.

One thing educators can do is provide some guidance and encouragement to these students. Check in with them about their interests, and help them find clubs and activities that are suitable for them. If possible, consider creating an after-school group where students can do activities or work on projects that are relevant to your class.

3. Pair Them with Students to Mentor Them

There are some things that are better done one to one when helping students to integrate. As a teacher, you may not always be able to give students that one on one attention. Instead, you can pair international students with other students for mentoring and peer companionship.

To help with this, some schools have created cultural mentorship programs. These recruit students to help other students transition into their new schools easily.

4. Consider a Welcoming Package

If you’re able to provide it or can get assistance from your school, it may help to provide international students with a bit of a welcoming package. This could include stationary for taking notes, gift cards or certificates to a local cafe or store, a stick drive, and possibly a sim card that allows them to use their phone. A few snacks can also help. Anything that helps students to feel at home and lets them become productive sooner is a great addition to welcoming gift.

5. Bridge The Language Gap When You Can

Even if a student is pretty fluent in the primary language spoken at your school, they can still be at a bit of a disadvantage. They may struggle to express their feelings in a different language, for example. They can also miss small but important bits of information as they translate things in their minds during lectures or while reading.

You may not be able to deliver every lecture and every assignment in multiple languages, but you can help these students by bridging the translation gap when you can. For example, you can arrange to have important lecture notes translated into different languages, and provide other pertinent information in students’ native languages. A resource like PickWriters can help you find services that will do academic translations for you.

6. Learn The Difference Between Lack of Comprehension and Communication Gaps

It can be difficult to know when a student doesn’t understand something, and when a student is just struggling to communicate their thoughts. One thing to keep in mind is that many students struggle with written communication more when a task is cognitively more difficult. You can help students who aren’t native speakers by giving them time to revise written work, and guidance as they do that.

7. Encourage Participation by Welcoming Other Languages

Along the same lines, a language gap can also stop students from participating in class discussions. Keep in mind that while native speakers can simply blurt out a thought or an example, someone who isn’t a native speaker can’t. They have to translate things, worry about whether or not their example will be relatable, etc.

Consider encouraging students to go ahead and participate in lively class discussions using their own language, or a mix of their language and the one commonly spoken in your class. Once they get their thoughts out, they can translate for others as needed. This helps them stay engaged, and has the added benefit of exposing other students to different languages.

8. Take The Time to Learn About Student’s Culture and Traditions

People feel comfortable and welcome when their traditions and culture are acknowledged. Something as simple as wishing a student well on one of their holidays can make a big difference in how welcome they feel. By learning about their students’ culture, instructors can also identify areas where they may need to be a bit more sensitive.

9. Use Visual Aids When Teaching

First responders and doctors often use visual aids when working with patients who don’t speak the same language. These can be used to teach concepts, and to ensure that everyone has the same understanding of something. For example, a non-English speaking student may not understand the differences between words like sad, devastated, worried, dejected, and heartbroken. You can use pictures to help them see those differences.

10. Encourage Students to Use Examples from Their Cultures in Discussions

It’s always helpful when students can relate lessons to their own experiences. They’re better able to understand, and better able to express their thoughts when they can create those associations. When students are able to relay those experiences in class discussions, everyone involved can better understand from those examples.

To help international students, make sure they feel safe sharing their own experiences as they relate to classroom discussions. There may be language and understanding barriers that could cause some disconnects, and it’s important to handle those carefully. Students who are embarrassed after sharing may shut down and be unwilling to engage in the future.

Final Thoughts

If you can help students become better integrated into the classroom, you accomplish more than helping them to achieve academic success. You help them to have a better overall experience at your school, and in their new community.

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Kristin Savage


Kristin Savage nourishes, sparks and empowers using the magic of a word. Along with pursuing her degree in Creative Writing, Kristin was gaining experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in marketing strategy for publishers and authors. You can find her on Facebook.