The value of an American education attracts international students from around the world. Each year, thousands of international students travel to the United States to study (Domville-Roach, 2007). The primary motivation for students to study abroad is to learn a foreign language and improve their career opportunities (Domville-Roach, 2007). The Institute of International Education (IIE, 2014) notes that new international student enrolment increased at U.S institutions by 7.5% in 2013 from 2012 and is expected increase over the next two years For the last two years, the number of international students aspiring to obtain a qualification in U.S. universities has been exponentially growing by 8% (IIE, 2014). International students are often excited to start the first semester of college in the United States, but there are some obstacles that naturally arise in a new country and academic environment. There are many international students who face challenges as they pursue higher education outside of their home countries. The success of international students depends on many factors, such as the adjustment to their new environment, academic pressure, and finances. But the most significant ones are cultural shock and loneliness.
There are many studies that reveal challenges faced by international student in the United States. For example, Ejiofo (2010) conducted a survey on the adjustment problems of international students in the United States. Ejiofo (2010) described many problems for international students in Texas and California including cultural shock and administrative support.
The highest numbers of international students are from Asian countries with China supplying the largest number of international students (235,597), followed by India (102,673), South Korea (68,047), Taiwan (21,266), and Japan (91,334), and the highest numbers of international students from non-Asian countries Canada, Mexico, Turkey, Germany, and the United Kingdom (IIE, 2014). It is not easy for these international students to adapt to a new learning environment because there are different styles of study in their home country which eventually leads to loneliness. Arthur (2004) discussed issues such as culture shock and even simple things in daily life that may have a psychological impact on international students, which in turn may cause them to experience serious problems related to their academic and social experiences.
Most of the students face difficulty and find frustrating to adjust to US culture because it is very different from their home country which might result in “cultural shock”. Cultural values may influence how students learn and engage with instructional content, as well as how they relate with others. Culture is about the values of acknowledgment, interpretations, expectations, and behaviours. Li, Chen, and Duanmu (2010) stress that “academic culture shock is directly associated with the learning environment of an academic institution”. International students who come to the United States from different cultures find sociocultural adjustment is difficult for them. The ecological system theory as described by Bronfenbrenner (1979) states that “a person’s behaviour cannot be separated from his/her environment. International students who come from different countries to study in the United States often think about what is appropriate or expected for their religious practices, family values and traditions, and societal norms. Understanding of the students’ needs and recognition of the challenges they face is important for their academic and social success.
Understanding how cultural factors influence the improvement of international students in higher education is necessary for faculty to learn the best practices in the education of international students. The majority of international students studying in America are used to different teaching styles and interactions with professors (Li et al., 2010). For example, the Saudi Arabia education system focuses on Islam in traditional curriculum, and segregates female and male students at all levels of education. As a result, the academic expectation of Saudi Arabian students in their county is dramatically different than their perceptions in studying in the United States (Heyn, 2013). Therefore, International students often feel pressured and less knowledgeable compared to American students because they are unfamiliar with the American educational system and teaching styles.
The experiences and social integration of international students affect their academic success with the faculty, classroom, and campus community (Lee & Rice, 2007). “For example, even before 9/11 women who wore veils or saris had difficulties integrating with campus life and suffer unpleasant experiences” (Lee & Rice, 2007, p. 385). Eringa and Huei-Ling (2009) describe cultural differences attributed to national and ethnic identity and how both factors influence students socially. Higher education leaders must strive to understand the international students’ learning styles and various cultures, values, beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes that distinguish international students. Moreover, they should help guide learning rates that align with international students’ learning styles by enhancing learning and improving academic performance.
American institutions, faculty, and students need to be made aware of the international students’ experience, in order to better facilitate their adjustment. Facilitating a diverse academic environment where international students can interact with fellow international students as well as domestic students is crucial to academic success (Rienties et al., 2013). Rienties et al. (2013) emphasize the benefits of engaging and assigning group work in classroom discussions and sharing of ideas with experiences 14 to improve international students’ academic performance, and to gain the best from their classmates’ experiences, perspectives, and cultures. Do not let the culture shock of unfamiliar territories lock you in a cocoon of loneliness, boredom, frustration and negative emotions. Instead, choose to embrace change, laugh at your mistakes, and make new friends. You will find yourself learning and enjoying the journey.