How would you feel if you were all alone in an unknown country? It’s not easy to come into an unknown country with different traditions, norms, culture, and language. International students must learn many of these new things at the same time as they are adjusting to being away from home. Many international students have a difficult time with these new changes and develop acculturative stress. Acculturative stress is the psychological impact of adaptation to a new culture. This stress can cause anxiety, depression, and other mental and physical illnesses.
In an interview with Sotonye Brown Porbeni, an Illinois State University undergraduate student from Nigeria, he shared that it was challenging to adjust to social environments, classes, food, and everything else. It causes great stress and anxiety at times.
“It’s difficult to socialize. It’s awkward because people may not understand you and don’t know how to talk to you,” he said. “They just nod their heads because they don’t understand what I’m talking about.”
Porbeni learned the language when he was younger and can’t even imagine how much more difficult it would have been if he was just learning English. Classes are still difficult because classes offered here are different than in Nigeria. At Illinois State there are specific courses like psychology, coding, and communication while in Nigeria you’re either an art student, science student, or commerce student.
While it’s different for every international student, they all need support learning the culture, traditions, norms, and language. Providing support to international students through on campus programming can be a great way to help them integrate into the campus community and strengthen relationships between U.S. students and international students. Advertising and making these programs known will allow international students to know where to go rather than having to search for them. Making resources more accessible will make life easier for international students.
Illinois State can continue to offer support by providing more housing opportunities in each residence hall during breaks. Sometimes international students don’t have a place to go, and it can be challenging to move from room to room. Providing appropriate housing accommodations will cause less anxiety. It would also be beneficial for professors to be more accommodating toward international students. Some international students are adjusting to the speed and how lectures work. More explanation or extra lectures could make a big difference. Having cultural food can also support international students’ cultural needs. Incorporating new food from different countries can develop new learning opportunities for everyone.
International students, please remember that you are not alone. You have your loved ones at home, professors, advisors, resident assistants, friends, and the Illinois State University community. Here are some tips to help you feel more comfortable as you adjust:
- Realize that adjusting takes time: Adjusting to a new place takes time, and it’s a process. Be patient and understand that you will be frustrated at times, but you will adjust soon.
- Focus on the positive: Be observant and recognize the positive and fun on-campus experiences or opportunities you’ve had.
- Understand your academic expectations: Introduce yourself to professors and academic advisors on campus to form relationships and set realistic academic goals.
- Accept that you will be homesick: All students experience homesickness when the environment is different. Call your loves ones but also try to get out of your comfort zone. Make new friends, meet new people, and learn about each other’s cultures.
- Do not compare yourself to others: Be aware that individuals on campus come from diverse cultural backgrounds and upbringings. Everyone is different, has different experiences and adjusts at their own speed.
- Get to know a variety of students: Take the first step in making friends, especially those willing to share their experiences with you. They can help you adjust quicker, answer questions, and make your experiences fun.
- Find ways to relieve stress: Find a hobby, join an RSO, or do something fun. Find ways to relax and take a break. Try exercising, calling your loved ones, or listening to music. Find what works for you, and take care of yourself.
- Keep an open mind: Be willing to engage in new experiences and see different perspectives. Be ready to see, hear, and try new things you weren’t anticipating.
Illinois State offers a variety of resources that can be helpful for international students which include:
- Student Counseling Services: Can provide individual and group sessions
- Multicultural Cultural Outreach Team offers workshops and opportunities to learn and meet students from different backgrounds.
- International Student Programs: International House Program, Mentorship Adjustment Program, INTO ISU program, International Student Advisory Board and Ambassadors
- RSOS: Over 300 organizations/opportunities to meet new people
- Multicultural Center: illinoisstate.edu/student-life/multicultural-center
- APAC–Asian Pacific American Coalition
- ALAS–Association of Latinx American Students
- BSU–Black Student Union
- Tribe–Teaching, Reviving, Indigenizing, Beautifying and Equalizing
- Financial Assistance: Employment, funding, and scholarships options
- Career Center: advising, cultural career network and professional opportunities