American College Readiness for Incoming International Undergraduates

Audrey Zenner, University of Illinois at Chicago

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As American academia ramps up recruitment of incoming international undergraduates, several issues must be considered to ensure college readiness for this select group of students. In order to acclimate this influx of students on our campuses, specific programs must be established to assist a smooth transition. ESL listening and speaking skills are one area that such students quite often need assistance. College academics through an American lens would serve them well per culture shock to expectations within our classrooms. Additionally, critical thinking, reading and writing must be thoroughly presented to this population since their native educational system may not have broached these areas. To strive for success in American colleges and universities, it should be mandatory that these students enroll in such courses meeting a minimum of two times per week. Moreover, curriculums centered on a more global experience are necessary for intercultural understanding and sustaining our ever changing campus.

Tailor-made courses or seminars would engage this group of students into successful college readiness. Quite often, their previous learning styles from their native countries involve many lectures, memorization of material, very little English pronunciation or listening and speaking activities. This program should guide them away from such instruction towards more interaction with their professors, classmates, and study materials. The following scaffolding is designed for presentations, research, and discussions aimed at these undergraduates as justified by their English language, prior learning strategies, and non-western style of education.

  • Priority should be given to building strong English language foundations with a focus on practical communication skills (listening/speaking & reading/writing), pronunciation, and reading comprehension. Students will complete reading assignments and actively participate in class discussions. All of these language skills should be geared toward coping with complex ideas in textbooks, class discussions, and writing tasks.
  • Practical methods for college success should center on learning support instruction across the disciplines. This would involve addressing time management, critical reading/thinking, preparing for and taking examinations, effective writing, and oral presentations. Also, students would learn to take advantage of multiple resources to support these efforts (i.e.: the library, campus computers, copy centers, etc.).
  • Academic writing instruction should highlight our western style, format, and e-mail etiquette, along with research papers specific to their field of study. A required textbook could be, Precise American Writing: A Guide for International Students & Professionals, Audrey Zenner (2013), Naperville, IL, Marsten Publishing Group, ISBN 978-0-9820678-3-3. *

*Possible academic writing instruction topics include:

  1. Major differences in western style of writing as compared to students’ native writing
  2. Formal grammar & style
  3. Word choice
  4. Strong action verbs
  5. Choosing the correct noun & verb
  6. Audience
  7. Writing titles
  8. Using transitions
  9. Reducing wordiness, concise & clear writing
  10. Articles
  11. General to specific writing
  12. Paraphrasing
  13. Writing summaries
  14. Thesis statements
  15. Writing research papers

Additionally, it is important to highlight unique differences between students’ native high schools and the American university/college within the proposed seminars and/or courses. Common sense study tips, such as those listed below should be emphasized while mentoring these internationals.

  1. Scheduling and time management
  2. Syllabi
  3. Attendance
  4. Notes
  5. Sitting in the front row of classes
  6. Networking
  7. Questions
  8. Working
  9. Tutoring & study groups
  10. Socializing
Fundamental to this targeted audience is language specific to one’s university/college presented as a glossary to navigate campus activities, for instance, Blackboard, athletic team names, ombudsperson and explanations detailing how colleges and departments make up a total university.  Social and networking skills should also be taught to improve interactions with professors, business people, and roommates. As a final point, understanding academic ethics and plagiarism at western universities should be covered as extremely important in our American educational system.

Audrey Zenner (University of Illinois at Chicago) instructs academic writing and communication skills to international graduate students & visiting scholars.

ITBE Link - Winter 2014 - Volume 41 Number 4

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