Agony aunt

October 13, 2000


Many of my students are from abroad and I want them to go home with a positive learning experience. What sort of guidance is available?


Lee Dunn, Lecturer (on leave), School of Social Workplace Development, Southern Cross University, Australia

You have already taken a very important first step towards ensuring that your international students have a positive learning experience. By seeking guidance, you are acknowledging that their learning experiences can be enhanced in ways that pay attention to their cultural backgrounds. Teachers are too often blissfully unaware that students from abroad have any particular learning needs and seem to think that a lack of English language is the only barrier to their effective learning in Britain.

In most institutions there are enthusiasts who have developed knowledge and skill in teaching international students. Seek them out. They might be involved with the international office or equal opportunities section, or they could be fellow staff members from your own or another discipline area who have shown interest and have experience in teaching students from abroad.

International students in the later years of their study in Britain are also good sources of guidance. Their experiences can give pointers towards good teaching practice.

National organisations such as the United Kingdom Council for Overseas Student Affairs ( could be helpful. You could also ensure that international students are aware of any relevant institutional or student union groups.

Finally, you can be guided by your students' experiences by keeping in touch with their successes and the problems they face as they study in a foreign culture. You could initiate a special interest network among teachers in your institution (coffee club or email network).


Jude Carroll, Senior lecturer, Oxford Centre for Staff Learning and Development, Oxford Brookes University

You might want to read something about international students, but avoid anything that talks only about problems. Such books date from the time when the prevailing view was: "They came here, they can jolly well fit in." Many do, but, without help, explanations, encouragement and respect the task is very hard indeed. For a general overview, try David McNamara and Robert Harris's Overseas Students in Higher Education (Routledge, 1997). A similar book by Yoni Ryan and Ortun Zuber-Skerritt, Supervising Postgraduates from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds, includes some memorable case studies from students that vividly portray the confusion and struggle of working in a strange culture with a second language.

If you want to think specifically about teaching and learning issues, you could try Janette Ryan's Guide to Teaching International Students. It is designed to be an easy read for busy academics, and it provides examples of others' good practice.

The British Council publishes a short inexpensive guide, Feeling at Home, with information on cultural practices and beliefs.

But many people working with international students want more than reading, so at Oxford Brookes we have organised workshops and seminars where people can meet and share ideas about good practice. You might have such events in your own university, or you could attend one of our scheduled national workshops. For more details, contact 01865 484615 or .

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