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6 min read

Going off to college represents a substantial challenge for many students. International students, on the other hand, may face an additional set of challenges that can make it harder for them to excel as they move toward their degrees. In many cases, however, you can offer assistance to your international students that can help set them up for success and provide them with the tools they need to have a more enjoyable experience. 

Challenge #1: Language Barriers

Most international students have a basic level of comprehension in English. Unfortunately, studying a language inside the classroom often does little to prepare students for the challenges they may face when they need to use that language full-time. Some things simply don’t translate as well as others, especially if their instructor was not a native speaker.

Idioms and Expressions

Often, idioms and expressions simply don’t translate well from one language to another–including expressions that a native English speaker might take for granted. From “scratching your head” to “beating around the bush,” there are plenty of expressions that English speakers use commonly in everyday conversation that might make little sense to international students–and using them in the classroom or conversation could add unnecessary complication or complexity for a student who may already be struggling to understand what is going on around him. There are also expressions that non-native English speakers may struggle to understand or use incorrectly simply because they haven’t often heard them used until arriving at college.


Many fields, especially in science in engineering, are filled with jargon that barely translates well to native English speakers, much less international students. While most international students likely have a reasonably solid understanding of the jargon in their chosen field, they may not have the same level of understanding when it comes to, say, general education courses that they have to take to graduate. 

Language Gaps

Often, international students discover in their early years at a university that they simply do not have the same high-level comprehension of their chosen language that they initially thought. Sometimes, they may have gaps in their comprehension that their classes simply did not cover. Other times, they may still need some extra practice to get up to the level of conversational understanding they initially expected. As a result, they may struggle with significant language barriers when interacting with classmates and professors alike. 

While many language barriers exist that can challenge international students and make it difficult for them to function in the classroom, those language gaps do not have to prevent them from learning. A platform like Pronto, for example, can provide automatic translation, especially in written communication, that can make it easier for international students to put messages, lectures, and documents in their native language. As a result, students can often experience a higher level of comprehension and understanding of their class material.

Challenge #2: Difficulty Forming Relationships

International students often arrive on campus alone. They don’t have friends and family in the local area, and they often do not attend college with a friend who can help them pave the way. Not only that, international students may struggle to form meaningful relationships with their American peers, particularly if they have specific barriers, including language or cultural struggles, that make it harder for them to form lasting relationships.

Relationships on a college campus are about more than just having friends to spend time with. Relationships between students in the same major field or the same classes can make it easier to form groups for projects, participate in study sessions together, or simply ask questions. Friends in college are the ones approached when a student misses class and needs to know what happened during the day or has a question about the content that they simply didn’t understand. 

Using the right communication platform, on the other hand, can streamline those communications between students and make it easier for all students, including international students, to ask those questions and get the answers they need. 

Challenge #3: Cultural Differences

Landing in another country seems exciting at first: a chance to go on an adventure. Quickly, however, culture shock starts to set in. Often, international students do not realize just how different their time in the United States will be until they have had a chance to spend some time there. Sometimes, unexpected changes and differences may make them unexpectedly homesick. Other times, they may find navigating in a completely unfamiliar environment confusing. As international students navigate those challenges, they may have a hard time adapting to life at their new college or university in general–and, as a result, they may have more trouble keeping up with their assignments and scoring as high as possible on their projects and exams. 

A strong relationship with a professor or mentor can help guide international students through that difficult adjustment period, provide them with critical context, and help them feel less alone as they adapt to different cultural norms and expectations. An understanding professor can also provide an international student with extra leeway during difficult periods or times when they may struggle more to deal with those challenges. Often, however, students will not reach out to their professors in person–and in a crowded classroom, you might not have the chance to connect with those students.

Utilizing a communication system like Pronto, however, can make it easier to connect with international students and develop a deeper relationship with them. Not only can you check in on them throughout the semester to make sure that they aren’t having any problems–and develop a deeper relationship with them as a result–they can contact you with just the press of a button, which can decrease their reluctance to reach out to you. 

Challenge #4: Classroom Expectations

Classroom expectations may be very different in an international student’s home country. Asian students, for example, often have a much more formal relationship with their instructors than their American peers. They often have a harder time adjusting to the more casual relationships present in a college classroom, especially with younger instructors who are more likely to connect personally with their students. 

Students may also find that the expectations in a college classroom are very different from what they experienced in their home country. Your classroom may have very different standards with regards to student participation: for example, you may expect much more direct interaction within the classroom environment than students are used to offering. Even the format of your tests and quizzes may be different than students experienced in the past–and all those factors combined can create substantial barriers to international student success. Furthermore, grading scales can vary dramatically from country to country–and American grading scales can create unnecessary and, in many cases, unexpected anxiety. Worse, it can prove incredibly difficult to predict exactly how those expectations will impact international students in your classroom, since standards and classroom expectations may vary around the world. 

If you have international students in your classroom, clearly setting out your expectations is key. Don’t simply assume that your students will understand what you mean when you tell them to “participate in class,” since “participation” for one student might include actively engaging with the coursework and class discussions, while participation for another might look more like simply turning in the assignments as expected. Instead, layout expectations in your syllabus. Include them in documents that students can reference regularly throughout the semester. A system like Pronto makes it easy since you can easily upload your content to the online system, which students can then access any time they have questions about your standards or requirements. This simple strategy can also make it easier to share your standards for tests, projects, and papers, which can help set all of your students up for success. 

Challenge #5: Cultural Challenges in Information Presentation

Often, teachers–and instructional materials–relate content to experiences they assume students have had to create a deeper connection with that material and make it more relatable. Unfortunately, international students may have dramatically different experiences than their peers–and they may not have experiences that their American peers take for granted. As a result, it can prove more difficult for them to connect with the information as it’s presented. 

Allowing students to draw their cultural connections–and providing them with an environment that encourages that style of learning and presents content in different ways, if needed–can help overcome that challenge. Often, it can help international students to have additional learning vectors, including online discussions or opportunities to connect with others who might explain concepts and material differently. Pronto can help smooth the way through more effective online communication.

Using the right communication tools can make a huge difference for all students in your classroom, especially international students. Pronto offers the ability to communicate more easily and form deeper relationships than international students can form on their own in many classroom environments. Contact us today for a free demonstration.