International students want to learn about living in America as well as learning in America
As thousands of high school seniors across the country watch for their college acceptance letters this spring, thousands of young people around the world are making plans to come to the United States as well.
The international undergraduate and graduate students will join the 500,000 or so already in the United States. They will have to adjust not only to academic demands, but also living situations that may require a new understanding of how to treat members of the opposite sex and how to engage in financial transactions, such as renting an apartment or buying a car.
Answers to those everyday questions, as well as an inside look on how to navigate the classroom, come in a new book, Succeeding as an International Student, published by the University of Chicago Press and written by Charles Lipson, a veteran University of Chicago political science professor. The book is also intended to be used by more than 100,000 international students going to Canada, where standards and practices are similar to those in the U.S.
Based on extensive interviews with students, their advisers and professors, the book helps students live comfortably as well as succeed academically, Lipson said. "I explain the importance of participating in class, the stress on originality and creativity, the rules for academic integrity (as they are understood here) and how to work with professors," he said.
Many students come from education systems that value memorization and repetition of facts, Lipson pointed out. In order to navigate the American system, students have to speak up in class (even if their English is limited), challenge the ideas of others and write papers with original ideas, he added.
Relating to professors is another challenge. "In our system, professors are both less formal, but also more businesslike," he said. Conversations can be friendly, but need to get to a discussion of academic issues, he said.
The giving of gifts is also a custom that can vary greatly among cultures. Lipson dissuades international students from giving expensive gifts to their professors.
He also suggests ways to deal with the challenges of being a teaching assistant, which combines the role of student and teacher. Besides showing up on time and turning in grades promptly, teaching assistants also need to draw the line in socializing outside the classroom. For example, while getting coffee or pizza with the whole class is OK, gathering with only a few students is taboo.
Lipson is also clear about the American and Canadian expectations for men's treatment of women. Women are treated equally, often teach classes and serve in leadership roles. Female and male students frequently join each other for lunch, but such encounters are not considered dates, Lipson advised.
Adjusting to new surroundings is another big challenge. Lipson encourages students to read a local newspaper, at least for the first few months, and travel about their new community to learn more about it. A car is frequently necessary to get around, particularly in universities in non-urban areas. He suggests students, even those who drive in their native countries, go to driving school so they can deal with tricky local conditions, such as snow, heavy traffic and new traffic laws.
Some students are also surprised by shopping in local stores, where prices are fixed and do not include sales taxes. Many come from countries where sales tax is already included and where all prices are negotiable, as car prices are here. He suggests international students go online and find product evaluations, wholesale prices and buying incentives.
Finding a place to live can also be daunting. Lipson encourages international students to work closely with the university housing office and compare options before signing a lease.They need to know if their new home is in a safe neighborhood, convenient to campus and quiet enough to study and sleep.
"My goal is to help international students adapt to their new environment, to succeed academically and live comfortably," Lipson said."After all, they are some of our best students, and we benefit enormously from having them here."
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