Agony aunt

December 11, 1998

Q Some of my overseas students are looking decidedly dejected and out of place and, with Christmas coming up, I would welcome some tips on making them feel more at home in this country.

A Sometimes an induction course for international students is just not enough. They tend to be left alone for most of the time unless they have a problem.

Christmas can be particularly difficult for them, and it is worth looking for host families to invite them into their homes to give them a taste of British life.

The problem with an induction course is that it relies on the students feeling able to ask for help like any other student after it has ended. We cannot take that for granted.

We have been building on research from British Columbia University and from Griffiths University in Australia into ways of helping students get used to the cultural change. This helps them to be more successful both academically and socially.

Our five-week programme - in addition to induction - begins about six weeks into the first term, which is long enough for the students to have encountered some problems.

We focus on various aspects of cultural life here. Group participation is a particular concern for many students, many of whom have been used to a very different, more formal, educational setting. We use role playing to get them used to participation in seminars, making interjections, refusing a request, having a disagreement and so on.

The course is particularly useful for non-European students. We have many taking part from Southeast Asia and from West and East Africa. It is a very practical approach and they take home work so that principles can be transferred to a real-life setting.

Since we piloted this approach two years ago, we have had complimentary feedback from students, who have demonstrated the ability to connect culturally and socially so that they are better able to concentrate on their studies.

Essentially what we are offering them is a safe and secure place to talk through their difficulties.

Nigel Humphries - Student counselling and Excell programme, Leeds University.

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