A Study of the First Year International Students at a Canadian University: Challenges and Experiences with Social Integration/Une éTude Des éTudiants Internationaux De Première Année Dans Une Université Canadienne : Défis et Expériences Avec L'intégration Sociale

By Zhou, George; Zhang, Zuochen | Comparative and International Education, September 2014 | Go to article overview

A Study of the First Year International Students at a Canadian University: Challenges and Experiences with Social Integration/Une éTude Des éTudiants Internationaux De Première Année Dans Une Université Canadienne : Défis et Expériences Avec L'intégration Sociale


Zhou, George, Zhang, Zuochen, Comparative and International Education


Over the past few decades, an increasing number of international students came to North America for higher education. For instance, during the 2008-2009 academic year, the number of international students in post-secondary institutions in the United States increased by 8% to a record high of 671,616 students (Institute of International Education, 2009). According to a recent media release by the Associate of Universities and Colleges of Canada (2011, Oct. 25), for the 16th straight year, the number of international students in Canadian colleges and universities is on the rise. Full-time international enrolment has increased by more than 11% since 2010 to 100,000 students, a four-fold increase since 1995. Students coming from around the world enrich the educational experiences of North American students by bringing global perspectives, new cultures and languages to their campuses. They also generate financial benefit to their host countries. As far as Canada is concerned, international students contributed more than $8 billion to its economy and created 81,000 jobs in 2011 (Roslyn Kunin & Associates, Inc., 2012).

The number of international students will continue to grow in the context of globalization and financial shortages for higher education. Many post-secondary institutions have seriously considered curriculum internationalization in order to keep their programs competitive (Fitzpatrick, 2004). Also, they have considered taking more international students as an avenue to balance tight budgets (Mullens, 2006). Federal and provincial governments reflect increasing interest in the global education market (Tamburri, 2008). Recently, the Canadian government had close contact with the Indian government and signed agreements for collaboration in many areas including education (Canada Prime Minister's Office, 2012). The Ontario provincial government set up scholarships to attract more scholars from China (Ontario Premier's Office, 2010).

While universities are ambitious in their quest to admit more international students into their campuses, they realize that it is not financially wise to admit more students only to lose them before graduation. In the university where this study took place, a recently released five- year strategic plan clearly states the significance of attracting and retaining the best international students. However, this strategic goal will not be achieved until the university clearly understands how satisfied these students are with their study experiences. Such information may directly affect the admission and retention of international students. The purpose of this study was to understand the experiences of the international students who were in their first year of study in a Canadian university; the focus was on the challenges these students faced with social integration.

Theoretical Framework

The issue of student retention has been prevalent in North American post-secondary institutions (Scoggin & Styron, 2006). About 50% of the freshmen who enrolled in colleges and universities drop out before completing their programs (Brawer, 1999). Roughly 20-25% of all first-year students do not proceed to a second year of study (Grayson & Grayson, 2003). Finnie and Qiu (2009) found out that persistence rates differ between universities and colleges: roughly 22.6% of college students drop out after the first year compared to 15.1% of university students. Individual institutions do not bear the cost of student attrition alone (Elliott & Shin, 2002; Grayson & Grayson, 2003); the issue also generates significant problems for society. Lotkowski, Robbins, and Noeth (2004) wrote:

In the face of changing workforce and educational requirements, the need to retain more students will only intensify. Low retention rates waste human talent and resources, jeopardize our nation's economic future, and threaten the economic viability of our postsecondary institutions and our country's democratic traditions. …

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A Study of the First Year International Students at a Canadian University: Challenges and Experiences with Social Integration/Une éTude Des éTudiants Internationaux De Première Année Dans Une Université Canadienne : Défis et Expériences Avec L'intégration Sociale
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