Language Preparation and the First Year Experience: What Administrators and Policy Makers Should Know

Article excerpt

Studying in a second language is probably one of the greatest challenges for international students. In this study, the relationship between language preparation and the first year graduate study among East Asian international graduate students in the United States was investigated in order to provide implications and suggestions for university administrators and policymakers. Language preparation before arriving in the United States and their first year experiences were explored in order to understand the challenges that East Asian international students face. The findings from 12 interviews reveal the first year academic experience of East Asian international graduate students and the needs of this population regarding university language support. In addition, the findings allow policymakers and higher education administrators to better understand the difficulties this population faces as well as the importance of support services and mentoring programs in ensuring their academic success in the United States.

Keywords: Language Proficiency; International Graduate Student; Academic Performance; Adjustment Process

As a crucial center of information and advanced technology, the United States attracts students and scholars worldwide (Sandhu, 1995). According to the Open Doors 2006) report, 564,766 international students studied in American higher education institutions in the 2005-2006 academic year (approximately 3.9% of the total postsecondary enrollment) including 259,717 students in graduate programs (approximately 46% of the total number of international students). Approximately 58% of the total international graduate enrollment were students who were born in Asia (Open Doors, 2006). Hence, this study's focus is Asian international graduate students. Specifically, our participants were all of East Asian descent. They were from the numbers two, three, and four countries--China, Korea, and Japan (India being number one) for pursuing graduate studies at U.S. higher education institutions (Open Doors, 2006).

Although international students have already become a component of student population in U.S. postsecondary education, based on a report released by the Association of International Educators (NAFSA, 2006), "the era of robust growth in international student enrollments in the U.S. was already over" (p.2). Now, fewer international students are enrolled in U. S. higher education institutions than there were before the events of September 11, 2001. Other countries are working to attract the world's scientific, technological, and intellectual elites from around the globe. As the report states, "what is most alarming is that, for the first time, the United States seems to be losing its status as the destination of choice for international students" (NAFSA, 2006, p.2). Given this situation, a comprehensive strategy was presented, including effective policy coordination for admission, monitoring, and services for international students; more flexible and coordinated visa policy; and removing excessive governmentally imposed barriers. However, most of these strategies are at the national and state levels. For higher education institutions, one of the most important efforts geared at attracting international students and providing quality education is understanding and meeting their educational needs. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to use qualitative methods to explore the most prominent educational needs of international students and provide corresponding implications for educational administration and policy.

A lack of proficiency in English is the number one issue for international students who are from non-English speaking countries and the primary obstacle faced by international students in the U.S. (Mori, 2000; Selvadurai, 1998). Therefore, we chose language difficulty as the primary educational issue for international students. In our research, we define "language" as "English," which is the linguistic medium for instruction at American universities. …