Many schools are in the process of evaluating and accepting new international students for the 2017-2018 school year. Every new admissions cycle presents an opportunity to review and refine your processes—from the point of admissions inquiry to beginning classes—to ensure you, the student, and the student’s family are all clearly informed about what is happening and prepared for success in their new school in America.
Entering a new culture, speaking a second language, and attending a new school is an incredible time of transition for international students. How can you make this transition successful? Here are 10 areas to consider on how your school can better prepare your new international students before they begin classes at your school next Fall.
1. Clear Communication in the Admissions Process
If someone were to visit your website today, how complicated is it to understand your international admissions process? How easily is it located from your school’s homepage? Making sure your website and all other written information communicates clearly and simply is important to avoid misunderstandings. Once a student is accepted, a thorough “Matriculation Packet” is important, including a “What to Bring” list, a full-year calendar of important dates, and student handbook of guidelines and rules to live by as an international student, among others forms, to further eliminate confusion. Verbal communication is important, but written communication can always be referenced. Not receiving email responses? Keep in mind that WeChat is the preferred communication method for most everyone in China.
2. Host Family Introduction
The #1 concern of most parents (moms especially) is what family their child will be living with. While host family assignments many times are not known until June or July, the earlier you can facilitate an introduction to them, the less anxiety the family will have. At the minimum, having a one-page “Host Family Profile” with pictures and information about the family is helpful. (Note: Presenting this information to families in advance does open the door for requests to be moved to a new host family based on superficial appearances, so proceed with discretion and be prepared to stand firm to your original assignment.)
3. Money, Phone, and Computer Access
Making sure your incoming students have sufficient cash and/or a working credit/debit card is important to cover purchases they choose to make throughout the year. Communicate your expectations clearly on the amount of money a student needs to have on hand to avoid awkward financial dilemmas between your student and host families. What local bank account options do you have for your international students? Communicate clear expectations and options of how to do this in your local context. Additionally, make sure students know how to obtain a functioning U.S. cell phone and facilitating the distribution of your 1:1 technology device your school uses, if applicable. Make this a part of your international student orientation, as it may require additional hand-holding.
4. Appropriate ESL Support & “Sheltered Classes”
Make sure the student is placed in all the appropriate classes, but particularly English, History, and Bible classes, as these are usually the subjects needing most attention. If they need ESL or tutoring support, err on the side of too much support to begin, especially during the first year. You can always decrease it as the student acclimates to the school and experiences success. Consider requiring after school tutoring for all first year students to ensure a strong academic start.
5. American Culture, “Life Skills” & History
The student will eventually gain a better grasp at how things work in America, and hopefully a foundational understanding of our history, but most of the time, this is an area international students really need extra attention on. Include information on cultural norms in your orientation before classes begin. Explain some of the core values of American culture as a whole: being on time, taking initiative, working hard, thinking for yourself, standing up for yourself, having fun, and so on, and how those characteristics and others manifest themselves in your school and host family community. This area is really deserving of multiple weeks of preparation, which occurs each summer at WAnet’s School Preparation Track.
6. School Culture
Your new students may not be familiar with physically moving from class to class throughout the school day, attending chapel, daily changing schedules, how lunch works, what a study hall is, or what to expect from physical education classes. Reviewing this with the students until they feel comfortable with it will help them confidently approach the first day of classes. Make sure your students clearly understand how your school works precedurally, as they will have plenty of social and cultural anxieties to navigate as it is.
7. Medical Care
Make sure your students know who they can go to with any medical concerns. If they need to take medication consistently, getting to know the school nurse and the procedures designed to protect them will be important. If they need to see a doctor or go to the hospital, make sure they are aware of how that will work and who they should talk to.
8. Host Family Expectations
Much of the time, problems that arise in host family situations are the result of the host parents never effectively setting the ground rules. Each host family should have written guidelines for the home regarding communication, dinner schedules, transportation, spending time together, doing chores around the house, media use, church attendance, and so on. Sit down with the student within the first week of moving in and clearly discuss these expectations and ensure understanding and agreement with the student. Make it a family-wide agreement that each person signs, then keep it posted on the fridge or in another common area of the house as a daily reminder to everyone.
9. Who They Can Go To With Problems
The international student director (or other appropriate staff member) should sit down with each student upon arrival and let them know they can always come to them with any problems or concerns. If the student is having a tough time relationally with their host family, for instance, having an “open door policy” with at least one person to come talk to about that important issue, since they may be hesitant to talk to their host parent or new teacher directly. Someone should begin to establish trust and rapport with the student, so they feel they have someone they can safely bring any important issues to them.
10. Health & Emotional Wellness
We live in a broken world and every person has unique problems and sensitivities. Students from China in particular often come to the United States with heavy emotional baggage from family relationships or past experiences. If possible, consider partnering with a biblically-based counseling center to conduct initial interviews with students to detect any serious issues which may need to be addressed throughout the student’s time at your school. If an issue exists, it will likely become apparent at some point, so it’s better to proactively evaluate your students for the sake of their well-being and success in your school community from the start.
Over the past 6 years nearly 350 international students have been equipped to succeed in their American Christian high schools at WAnet’s Summer English Institute, held each summer in July and August, immediately before the start of the school year.