Ross Wade, assistant director of career services, Duke Engineering/Professional Master’s Programs
Personal blog: http://mrrosswade.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosswade
This past year I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of international students—in fact, about 70 percent of my students are international. The master’s program they pursue is only two to three semesters long, and for many of them, peak recruiting season starts two weeks after they enter the United States.
Just think about it for a second…these students get off a plane, in a foreign country, with varying English language skill levels, have no idea how the U.S. job-search works, many have not found a place to live and are unsure of their transportation options, and quite a few are under tremendous stress to succeed academically and find a good job in the United States to assist their family financially back in their home country. Imagine the pressure and anxiety of these students—yikes!
Now, this is of course is a generalization…not all international students face these circumstances, and sure there is that excitement of being in a foreign country and having new experiences…but many international students are faced with some overwhelming tasks—especially finding a job in the United States.
Verbal and non-verbal communication issues can often be a source of stress. Many international students are taught English in a very academic way, so they can pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Practicing English conversationally may not have been a part of their learning experience; this can cause problems in career counseling/advising sessions, programs, and presentations. Non-verbal communication and poor comprehension of workshop materials and career advising information can also be an issue.
- Lose the slang and U.S. pop culture references. This was very difficult for me, and really raised my awareness to how much I used both of these as tools to explain things and be entertaining (I thought my jokes were hilarious! Not to my international students…I got nothing but blank stares. OUCH!). Speak a little slower than you normally would and be very clear in your language, using basic and universal terms.
- Sometimes students will nod and state they understand your point or instruction. It is helpful to ask them to explain it back to you, as many students may not have understood you, but out of respect did not want to interrupt or ask you to repeat.
- Professional interviews can be difficult for some international students as they may have low confidence in their English language skills, feel uncomfortable talking about accomplishments, find it difficult to give direct and concise answers, etc. Consider partnering with your institution’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program or international student center to do a mock interview program. Facilitate a workshop on U.S. interviewing skills, and then have students partner up and practice answering questions as an exercise (and practice their handshake!). Students can come to your career center for a formal mock interview and get individualized feedback. Another tip…some international students think a “mock interview” means when they come they will literally be mocked; consider using the phrase “practice interview.” I’ve also found explaining the U.S. interview process, from greeting to closing, is very helpful to international students as in other cultures it can be very different.
- Like me, you were probably taught not to add too much text to PowerPoint slides. When presenting to international students, it is a GREAT idea to use more text on slides, as, if they have trouble understanding you, they can read the slide as a “communication back-up.” It is also helpful to make slides available prior to your presentation so international students can read through and prepare beforehand.
- When working with international students one-on-one, I typically open an e-mail to them and type in resources, explanations, and next steps to send after an appointment.
- Watch for non-verbal communication. I noticed that many of my Chinese students, during practice interviews, sat on the edge of their chairs. Finally, after months of seeing this, I asked why. My student’s answer was simple, “To show you respect.” I had no idea. Instead of nodding up and down, some of my Indian students shake their heads from side to side to non-verbally agree with me or show that they understand; discussing with them how some American employers may not be able to understand if they are indicating yes or no will be help the student be more clear in interview and networking situations.
I’ve learned it is okay to observe behavior and ask about it—my international students are always happy (and often excited) to explain.
- The National Career Development Association has a great resource list for working with international students.
- Channel C, a YouTube profile created by Chinese students at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, carries videos about their college experiences and issues in the United States.
- “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands” by Wayne A. Conaway is a wonderful book on international business etiquette and protocol.
- Visit your institution’s visa services office, to get a tutorial/workshop on the Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT) process —most of the time it is explained very well on their website. You don’t have to become an expert on this topic, but should know the basics and be able to communicate it clearly (and also be able to share how international students can make an appointment with the visa services office).
What tips or resources do you have from your experiences working with international students? Let’s get a conversation started, y’all!
This is the first in a series from Ross Wade on working with international students.