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Recommendations for the Development of Orientation Measures for Foreign Students

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In the context of this paper, orientation refers to a structured programme of events designed to help new international students settle into their new environment quickly and efficiently upon arrival (Andrich, 2013). In a publication commissioned by the UK Council for International Student Affairs, Green and Healy (2008) provide guidance in designing orientation events for students. They state that there is not a one-size-fits-all orientation programme because HEIs vary in terms of time they have allocated for said programme, level of funding available, institutional needs and managerial impositions. Each institution must therefore tailor its orientation for new international students accordingly. However, there is one aspect that holds true for all institutions: the need to make students feel like a part of a community (Green and Healy, 2008). Two ways to do this are introducing them to key people that they can relate to and providing them with information to help them increase their social networks.

The key people to introduce to international students include:

  • Other newcomers. Students will be able to more feel a sense of community and belonging if they meet others from their own country, class/course, those they will be living with/near, and those that they might not talk to in instances other than the orientation. This can happen naturally if students are given time and space to mingle. However, some shy students might get overwhelmed and intimidated by such situations and stick to themselves. It might therefore be necessary to come up with ways to facilitate such interaction, for example through ice breakers, team games, and wearing badges with name and/or country, department and interests (Green and Healy, 2008).
  • Current international students. International students already studying at a university are the best placed to ease the transition for incoming students as they have already faced the challenges the new students will face (Andrich, 2013). They understand well the feelings and experience of the new international students. Involving them in the orientation is therefore vital and can be done through for example establishing mentoring schemes and including a Question and Answer session without members of staff being present.
  • Home students. Facilitating truly international communities must be inclusive of home students. The importance of having host-national friends has been emphasized in section 2.3 of this work and further in the buddy program. Buddies can physically meet their matched international students for the first time during orientation.
  • Staff. Finally, international students should be introduced to staff they will meet during the orientation programme, core international staff, other student services staff, temporary staff, and catering and accommodation staff. This can be done through formal talks or workshops, information tours or desks, staff wearing badges and events where staff mingle with students.

The key information to give international students to help increase social net-work includes:

  • Information on networks, mentoring and community groups. It will be helpful to provide students with information on and/or introductions to representatives of groups that will further facilitate their transition. These groups include national societies, faith groups, volunteer organizers and institutional mentoring coordinators, amongst others. They could be either internal or external to the institution. Volunteering organizations are especially helpful because volunteering in the community is a good way of seeing life outside the institution and meeting locals.
  • Information on opportunities to get together socially. Additionally, it is important for student associations and social groups to explain to international students what they are about and the activities that they partake in. This is dis-cussed further in a later subsection.

The most likely place for international students to make local friends is in the classroom, as they see their classmates every other day if not every day (Insider Guides, 2017). However, research has shown that even provided with such opportunities, international students are still more likely to make friends with students from the same background or from another country than with a local student (Glass and Westmont, 2003). It has therefore become necessary for HEIs to device ways in which the learning context can be used to facilitate inter-action of students from different national, cultural and linguistic backgrounds (Arkoudis, Yu, Baik, Borland, Chang, Lang, Lang, Pearce & Watty, 2010). Be-tween 2008 and 2010, Arkoudis et al undertook a project supported by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council. Upon the background of an ever-increasing number of international students in Australian universities, and an in-crease in the diversity of countries represented by these students, the project sought to determine ways in which university teaching can promote interaction between students from these diverse backgrounds. The result was a 2010 report that recommended designing and structuring teaching activities that require students to communicate and engage with peers from diverse backgrounds, primarily through team-based learning.

Team-based learning refers to learning activities that are carried out in established groups of students. The instructor/teacher is responsible for the formation of these groups, ensuring that there is a mix of international and local students in each team. If students form their own groups, they must be instructed to make sure that each group has people from at least two different nationalities.

Examples of teaching activities centered around team-based learning include:

  • Class discussions where students discuss an issue or analyze a case study then present an argument;
  • Problem-solving activities where students are required to pool from their aggregated knowledge to solve a set of (real life) problems; and
  • Group projects requiring students to carry out research, do a presentation and prepare a report which will be assessed.

As students get used to working together in groups through the course of the semester, they build working relationships which can flourish into friend-ships. Students also begin to see that diversity is a positive as they begin to value one another’s opinions, strengths, knowledge and experience.

A great way to make friends is by participating in group activities with other students who are like-minded (Hughes, 2016). The more a student gets involved with the group activities, the more that acquaintances in the group turn into friends. Universities usually offer a variety of such extra-curricular activities and it is easy to find out about them through keeping an eye on your notice board or from the campus office. Such activities usually attract not only other international students but also local students. Depending on the size and age of their university, students will find a society active for any interest or hobby they may have (Florea, 2016). A big university such as Stanford that was founded in 1891 and with a student population of 16,437 students has approximately 625 such organizations (Stanford University, 2018).

The main function of these organizations as stated on the university website is to enrich the social, cultural and educational experience of students.

In general, these clubs and organizations cover the following areas:

  • Athletic/Recreational
  • Careers/Pre-professional
  • Community Service
  • Ethnic/Cultural
  • Fraternities/Sororities
  • Health/Counselling
  • Media/Publications
  • Music/Dance/Creative Arts
  • Political/Social Awareness
  • Religious/Philosophical.

If their interests are not represented in any group, it is usually possible for students to form one that will cater to this. Such organizations provide students with an opportunity to network, and to develop interpersonal, communication and leader-ship skills among others (Florea, 2016).

The responsibility of graduate employability today has moved beyond the jurisdiction of careers departments to include alumni departments (Smith, 2011). Alumni events should shift focus from toasting the successful careers of older graduates, to providing assistance to fresher graduates who are just starting their career. Bringing together graduates from different years at these events has the potential of successfully increasing graduate employability through exploiting this interconnectedness (Smith, 2011).

Indeed, one of the ways in which HEIs can increase their students’ employability is by inviting previous graduates to interact with them (Kinash, 2015). This was one of the recommendations given by Kinash and her team, as part of a project which was tasked by the Australian Government after research in 2013 showed that graduate employability rates in Australia were at their low-est in twenty years. Graduates can be invited to come on-campus or online to ad-dress questions from students.

Below are some questions that might be asked to graduates:

  • What are you doing now?
  • What is your advice for current students? About their studies? About their approach to seeking employment? About what they should be doing as students to ensure they are employable?
  • What do you wish you would have known as a student that you know now as a graduate?
  • How do you see your industry changing/evolving? What can students do to prepare?
  • What knowledge, skills and attributes are key to your career?

In this chapter, graduate employability has been established as a complex con-struct that has different components. For the purposes of this study, employability of graduates comprises of five capitals: human, identity, psychological, cultural and social capital. Human capital refers to the understanding of degree-specific knowledge, technical skills and generic skills. Identity capital refers to the awareness an individual has about his/her interests, career goals and aspirations; and the action they take to fulfill these aspirations through researching on the career opportunities available; making a decision that matches both opportunities available and their interests and priorities; and finally seeking and securing the opportunities through appropriate self-presentation. Psychological capital refers to that which enables individuals to cope well with everyday career challenges, and includes metacognition, self-efficacy, self-confidence and self-esteem. Cultural capital refers to the knowledge, disposition and behaviours that are valued in today’s workplaces. They can be learned through work and life experience, but also come naturally to those that have a high EQ. Social capital refers to the resources that an individual has access too purely in the relations that he/she has with other people. Having all these five capitals eases the transition of a graduate from higher education to the labor market.

This study moves away from employability being based purely on who an individual is and what they know, to also encompassing who they know (that is, their social capital). Social capital has been established in this paper as the re-sources available to a person that exist only in the relations he/she has. Social capital has also been established as a capital because it is invested with the expectation of a future return, it is appropriable, it is convertible, it needs maintenance and it is a collective good. What brings out the value of social capital is the obligations that a person has to perform something that an actor expects them to, based on the trust that they have built. The task that an actor would like to achieve is what will determine whether strong or weak ties are required for accomplishments. Because international students are looking for information on employment opportunities which is new information to them, weak ties should be considered because they represent different social networks that will have ac-cess to different information.

International students must therefore actively build a social network of contacts in their host country and tap into the bridging role that individuals in their life play in helping them get information about employment opportunities. It is also of importance that they make particularly host national friends to better adjust socially, understand the host country culture, and improve their language skills. Meaningful relationships and interactions with host nationals will additionally lead to higher levels of satisfaction, less home-sickness and less loneliness in their study experience.

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