Addressing International Students’ Unique Challenges


Although most students experience some level of adjustment stress when heading off to university, international students suffer higher levels of acculturative distress when travelling abroad for school. In addition to academic, professional and financial stresses, these students face language barriers, unfamiliar academic systems, new social etiquette and student responsibilities, foreign cuisine, and transportation challenges that intensify adjustment stress levels. And yet although this student group can experience high levels of anxiety, isolation, fear and depression, they often avoid using campus-counseling services to address cultural challenges.

But there is hope for students transitioning to new cultures. Cultural knowledge – the kind supported by the Cultural Orientations Approach – contributes to the reduction of international students’ adjustment stress and frustrations by helping them manage cultural gaps, create realistic expectations about their new environments and interactions, and foster greater intercultural and cross-cultural competencies. On the other hand, a lack of cultural knowledge is linked to less student engagement, underdeveloped communication skills and delayed cross-cultural adjustment, which interferes with academic achievement, sociocultural and psychosocial adjustment, campus engagement, institutional transfer decisions, health, and safety.

The Cultural Orientations Approach is built upon cultural awareness and sensitivity, which together help people develop communication skills to navigate between and within different cultural groups. These cultural competencies aid international students’ preparation for, transition into, and adjustment within foreign higher education systems.

Diana Anderson