Problems International Students Face

In nearly every college and university there is at least a small group of international students. Most international students come to the United States because, they have more educational opportunities here, than in their own countries. According to Columbia University, international students in the United States reached record levels in 2006. In fact, international students make up almost one-quarter of Columbia’s enrollment. While the United States as a nation welcomes international students, many international students face problems while attending classes.


International Students pay more for education in the United States. The $11,122 estimated cost of attending The Alabama Language Institute at Gadsden State Community College for two semesters shows that international students pay at least double the amount that Alabama residents pay.  Most will scoff at the low tuition compared to other schools, but the University of Alabama at Birmingham also shows that the international student’s estimated cost of $24,500, is almost double an Alabama resident’s cost. Imagine if the cost is doubled at Harvard or Yale.

Many international students are not authorized to work while they are studying in the United States. This places the student’s family in the position to cover any additional living expenses that exceed the school’s estimated cost of attending.


There are varying levels of English Competency between international students. Some speak English fluently, others start learning when they start at their chosen school. Many are in between. A first year Taiwanese student at Claremont Graduate University says “An international student may have a hard time communicating ideas, because they often think in their native language. When translated to English their ideas may not make sense to other students or their instructors.” Others may have difficulties learning the English language. Often other languages have many more non-verbal cues than English.

Cultural Barriers

In my speech class last semester, there were several international students from Africa. Only two were from the same country.  Both were from the Congo. Imagine my surprise to learn that the girl was only able to attend school in the United States because her male cousin was attending with her. From their interactions you could see her asking permission from her cousin to speak to our male teacher or male classmates. Several other students in my class were disgusted, but they failed to understand it was their culture. International students also may practice other religions than what is commonly seen in the United States. Here in the Bible Belt you often see devout Christians criticizing the international students known religion, or constant pleas to convert the international student to Christianity. In many international cultures, people touch the person they are speaking with while they are talking. With our sexual harassment policies, an international student may be reprimanded for doing what they are used to.

The American Classroom

Charles Lipson published a great article entitled “Succeeding as an International Student.”The summary of the article is, in many countries, teachers do not allow students to form their own opinions. Here in the United States, teachers often encourage it and expect the students to discuss or debate them in the class room. In America, plagiarism is often the reason for expulsion, but in many countries students are taught to copy word for word, without giving the author credit.

Family Pressure

While many American students feel pressure from their families to succeed, international students are often pushed harder by their families. The students that come from third-world countries may push themselves to the breaking point, so they can better their family’s way of life. A female international student from countries where women are used for family alliances or used as assets may be given the choice to succeed or to come home and be married to the highest bidder.


When I was in high school, there were many Middle Eastern students attending Gadsden State Community College. I lived in an apartment community, two blocks from Gadsden State when 9/11 happened, so did at least twenty Middle Eastern students. By the end of the fall 2001 semester, at least half left Gadsden State and went home to their countries, because other students and residents from Gadsden harassed them. The sad thing is, most that left were better people than most people in my town. Since September 11th , there have been very few Middle Eastern students attending school at Gadsden State. I am not sure if Middle Eastern Students face the same challenges in other areas, but based on post 9/11 hysteria, they probably do.


While I briefly touched on issues faced by international students, there are many other issues they face. Next time you are in class, be sure to be a little more patient when an international student is speaking. It also be helpful to try to understand the culture they come from. Do whatever you can to make them feel more at home, so they can have the best educational experience that they can.