Are We Doing Enough to Support the Full International Student Experience Lifecycle? 

Are We Doing Enough to Support the Full International Student Experience Lifecycle? 
Tim Jansa

The May 2023 announcement from the Office of the United States Surgeon General that loneliness and a sense of isolation had become a veritable epidemic across vast swaths of the population demands a renewed focus on the entirety of the international student experience lifecycle. Personal observations, talking to friends and colleagues in the international higher education space, and delving into recent thought leadership on the issue only confirmed my suspicion: International students, often far from home and disconnected both from familiar social networks and cultural norms, are disproportionally affected by issues of mental health.

I am certainly not the first to state that we, as international educators, need to acknowledge and tackle issues that arise from isolation and disconnect. But our efforts require a much broader perspective than a focus on mental health alone.

The Recruitment Conundrum

With increasing opportunities for overseas students to study at institutions outside the global north, it is now paramount to ensure that the realities of campus life and the support mechanisms for international students live up to the rhetoric and promises made during the recruitment process. This is of particular importance when colleges and universities outsource their efforts to international recruitment agencies, as is common practice in many places beyond the United States. When the agenda behind initial contact with a recruiter is driven by business rationales and commission structures, the significance of well-being and support beyond assistance with immigration matters, on-campus orientation, and course enrollment is drastically diminished.

Another issue arises when recruitment efforts are decentralized across campus. As is commonplace at many large research universities, both recruitment and support efforts may include multiple administrative and academic units across campus. The challenge here is that both domestic and international students experience frequent confusion and frustration while seeking support. When multiple units are involved, it is paramount that they deliberately and strategically share information, coordinate and communicate their efforts, and then stay on message.

Finally, nothing will ruin the international student experience more quickly than discovering, upon arrival, that “promised” employment opportunities on-/off-campus and after graduation are limited or virtually non-existent, or that funding packages offered are insufficient to cover the basic cost of living. For instance, MIT’s Living Wage Calculator (https://livingwage.mit.edu/) for the United States shows that the minimum earnings to live above the poverty line in my hometown of Atlanta, GA, has now increased to almost US$40,000 while an annual income of USD$53,280 to $66,660 is needed to ensure emotional wellbeing. Now, compare these figures to graduate assistant stipends at your institution. Also, keep in mind that even small and grossly insufficient financial packages may seem like a large sum to students from lower-GDP countries.

An Eye on Mental Health

Many institutions fall short when it comes to providing adequate and targeted mental health support. The realities of the student experience have been inexorably changed from pre-pandemic times, especially through the proliferation of asynchronous online teaching even for residential populations. When one pairs these facts with ongoing social and political disruptions, natural disasters, and growing threats posed by climate change across the globe, it is not difficult to imagine their significant impact on the mental well-being of our international students.

Creating emotional resilience through a strong sense of belonging and care demands a two-pronged, targeted, and strategic approach. When simply pointing to the availability of resources on campus, leaders often ignore the fact that many cultures treat mental health as a taboo, thereby making it unlikely that students will discuss their struggles or seek help. Ensuring durable social ties with friends and trusted advisors that far exceed common practices is also essential and requires levels of support rarely found on most campuses.

Counteracting stigma and enticing international students to seek out support requires that they first fully integrate into their campus community and develop solid relationships with their domestic peers. However, there appears to be a persistent myth that assembling international and local students from different backgrounds and cultures in one physical space will somehow make meaningful intercultural exchange happen. Such outcomes require deliberate strategies rooted in the psychology of human behavior and prejudice frequently unknown to, or discounted by campus leaders. (Readers interested in this topic may wish to explore the scholarship of Gordon Allport and others in designing environments that foster social exchange and subvert prejudice.)

Accounting holistically for the international experience lifecycle, from recruitment to reentry to one’s home country, demands that we facilitate deep interpersonal relationships on campus that equip these students to overcome the myriad bureaucratic, social, and mental challenges of studying abroad in the post-pandemic world of academia. Achieving this goal requires nothing less than full transparency on how we not only can but will proactively assist and support international students once they arrive on our shores. Only then can we ensure a positive and lasting global education experience that takes into account the full student experience from recruitment to arrival back home.


Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Addison Wesley.

Jansa, T., & Anderson, D. L. (2021). Socially responsive leadership for post-pandemic international higher education: Theoretical considerations and practical implications. Institute for International Education. https://tinyurl.com/4s4onpbd

About the author: Dr. Tim Jansa is a scholar-practitioner and postsecondary administrator with more than 20 years’ experience in adult language and intercultural education, training, and higher education administration. His research centers on leadership at the intersection of postsecondary internationalization with world language teaching and learning.

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Episode 29: Cultural Lens on U.S. Higher Education: Analyzing International Perceptions of 'Anti-Woke’ Discourse

Dive into a nuanced exploration of the global discourse surrounding higher education in the United States. Join us for a panel discussion with esteemed international educators as we embark on a journey through the lenses of culture and international perspective, examining how global audiences interpret and engage with the ‘anti-woke’ discourse within the context of U.S. higher education. This engaging panel discussion will delve into the intersections of culture, ideology, and education, and the complex landscape of how international audiences perceive the ‘anti-woke’ narrative that has emerged within U.S. academia.

Whether you’re a senior international officer, or simply curious about the diverse viewpoints shaping U.S. higher education, this podcast episode will provide an invaluable space for critical analysis and insightful conversations.

Speaker Biography:

Fanta Aw is a distinguished leader in international education, renowned for her extensive contributions to global learning, cross-cultural understanding, and educational equity. With a deep commitment to fostering connections between diverse cultures and promoting educational excellence, she has significantly impacted the international education community.

Fanta Aw’s career has been characterized by her dedication to advancing global education initiatives, promoting diversity and inclusion, and nurturing partnerships that transcend borders. She has held influential roles in various organizations, advocating for the importance of international collaboration and learning experiences that empower individuals to navigate an increasingly interconnected world.

As a thought leader and visionary, Fanta Aw’s insights and expertise have shaped discussions on the future of international education, emphasizing the significance of equitable access, cultural exchange, and lifelong learning. Her work has not only elevated institutions but has also inspired countless individuals to embrace the transformative power of global education.

Date: September 14th, 2023
Time: 12 noon ET

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An experienced global researcher and administrator, Mark Beirn brings a critical approach to risk management, factoring structural racism and identity-based violence into his rubric for supporting equitable global mobility.

Specialization Areas:

– Global Risk Management
– Education Abroad
– Diversity, Equity, Inclusion in International Education
– Health and Safety
– Curriculum Development


Stephen Appiah-Padi​


Stephen Appiah-Padi is an international educator with several years of teaching and administrative experience in both 4 and 2-year HEIs. An experienced global education practitioner-scholar, with a demonstrated history of success in the field.

Dr. Appiah-Padi has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada in Educational Policy & Administration with a specialization in International/Intercultural Education.

At Northwestern College, he provided oversight in the administration of education abroad and international student services. In Lansing, Michigan, he first oversaw diversity and intercultural education at Lansing Community College, and later created the Center for International and Intercultural Education (CIIE) which merged intercultural engagement and international education programs of the institution, and he became its first director. Additionally, Dr. Appiah-Padi taught a course, “Diversity in the American Workplace”, to undergraduate management students of the College. In his current position, he provides leadership and vision in advancing strategic internationalization initiatives, including international partnerships and study abroad programs at Bucknell University.

Dr Appiah-Padi has created and facilitated several workshops for faculty and staff development in higher education and in business organizations. He has presented at several national and international conferences. In NAFSA, among several volunteer leadership positions, he has served as Dean of the Fundamentals of Intercultural Communication Workshop, the Leadership Development Committee member, Chair of the Africa Special Interest Group, and a Fellow of the Global Fellowship Program for mentoring emerging leaders of internationalization in African HEIs. He currently serves as a member of the NAFSA Board of Directors.

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Rosa Almoguera


Dr. Rosa Almoguera has worked as an international educator for over twenty years. She was trained as a Hispanic Philologist at the Universidad Complutense, in Madrid, and did her M.A. at the University of Pennsylvania. Her Ph.D., from Universidad Complutense included a field study and edition of written balladry “Romancero”. During many years Rosa combined teaching and her role as a senior administrator at the Fundación Ortega-Marañón in Toledo, Spain. At the Foundation, Rosa directed and, in many cases created, programs for the University of Minnesota, Notre Dame, Princeton, Ohio State, Arcadia, and the University of Chicago. She has also been a visiting professor at the University of Minnesota, University of Portland, and Interamericana de Puerto Rico.

Beginning in 2016, Rosa works as an international education consultant for both public and private European and US higher education institutions. Rosa has been successful in developing new partnerships and programs, as well as helping improve already existing ones.

Rosa is a member of Forum and NAFSA and has presented with higher education professionals on innovative academic and research programming, STEM in study abroad and Nationalism in Europe. Rosa is currently completing the final Professional Certification from the Forum on Education Abroad.

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