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Teaching a Diverse Student Body: Practical Strategies for Enhancing our Students’ Learning

Teaching International Students


This chapter is written for US faculty and TAs who teach international students. Faculty and TAs from other countries who want to learn more about the cultural and academic assumptions of US students may consult the books listed under “Information for International TAs” in Appendix II.

In the past decade, the number of international students at U.Va. has grown dramatically. The university benefits in numerous ways from the knowledge, skills and perspectives brought by students from different parts of the world. However, as newcomers, international students face multiple pressures that may affect their academic performance. Foremost among these is their level of English language proficiency (accent, enunciation, slang, colloquial phrases, etc.), but there are many other stresses that they may also encounter. Many international students report that they find the instruction of their classes fast-paced because they must make a number of adjustments, not only to language and communication styles, but also to the US educational system, and to other cultural and social differences, all while trying to absorb new material and ideas. Being aware of these pressures, as well as the non-academic ones faced by international students can help you respond to them in ways that enhance their academic performance.

Chief among the non-academic obstacles that international students encounter is the real and perceived scrutiny they undergo when applying for a visa. The tightening of immigration restrictions that followed the attacks on September 11, 2001, have made it difficult for many international students to get their visas approved or renewed in a timely manner. Students from South Asia, the Middle East, and many other Arab nations face particular scrutiny: Male students between the ages of 16 and 45 who come from twenty-five countries within these geographic regions must “go through special registration procedures upon arrival in the United States, including fingerprinting, which have led many of them to complain that they are being treated like criminals.” (Jacobson 1). This scrutiny extends not only to their visas, but also to their course of study, if it includes science courses listed on the State Department’s Technology Alert List. If, for example, an international student signs up for a course in biochemistry or nuclear technology, he or she could be subject to investigation. If a student asks you about immigration issues, refer him or her to the International Studies Office or the International Students and Scholars Program (982- 3010, 208 Minor Hall).

Another unfortunate result of 9/11 has been a rise in reports of hostility directed at some international students. Across the United States, international students have encountered threats, racial profiling, physical violence, and other forms of overt and subtle discrimination (Know Your Rights 1). If you suspect or are informed that a student has been a victim of harassment or violence, refer him or her to the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP, 924-3200). See also the section on harassment and assault in Chapter IV.