Preparing Exchange Students Before They Move Abroad

12/9/2014

Today’s college students know that to compete in our highly diverse global economy, they must effectively demonstrate intercultural skills to communicate with people and navigate within different environments. One way to gain cultural competencies is through international study abroad, a trend that is gaining steam across the world’s universities.

But adjusting to not only a new school but also a new national culture is very demanding. Even though many universities know that cultural knowledge and skill development help international students achieve academic and social success, most US institutions do not provide cultural competence training. For the institutions that do provide such training, it is often done after the students arrive on campus, and is not mandatory. This is not ideal, as in the weeks after arrival, international students are often distracted and become overwhelmed with the amount of new stimuli, language barriers and student responsibilities.

One response that institutions may use to address international student needs and streamline cultural adjustment is to shift the instructional focus from post-arrival cultural training to pre-departure cultural training. The Cultural Orientations Approach is of great use here. The COA 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.

As globalization increases the demand for college graduates equipped with cultural competencies, educational leaders must continue responding by providing effective cultural training and adjustment support services, the kind espoused by the Cultural Orientations Approach and its constituent tools and resources. With the COA, international students learn to bridge cultural gaps, increase accurate culture expectations, and foster cultural competencies before they arrive in their new schools.

Diana Anderson