As a land of opportunity where dreams can come true for those prepared to work hard for success, America’s appeal is long-standing. For students deciding which academic path will best meet their learning needs and aspirations, American institutions are respected the world over. But now students expect to see a clearly signposted path from studies to career. Increased demand from students across South Asia to pursue higher education internationally, presents institutions across America with the opportunity to diversify their student communities.
Universities that make the strongest link with employment will strengthen their reputations beyond a single or small number of countries, grow demand and build long term resilience. American students will benefit too, building cultural agility and the skills and outlooks that transcend national boundaries and are the tools required of tomorrow’s leaders.
Recognition that international students contribute enormously to the places they choose to study — and to the industries they choose for their careers — is also on the up. This was demonstrated by the strong country delegations at the recent NAFSA Annual Conference and Expo, where we met representatives from every inhabited continent keen to learn from Study Group’s near thirty years of experience in connecting international students to global higher education.
The higher education sector is deeply committed to delivering career-ready international students. It is apparent in our work with 50 partners around the world — including Florida Atlantic University, James Madison University, Long Island University, University of Auckland, Cardiff University and University College Dublin — but at the expo there was particular recognition that specialist employment support and preparation in America is crucial to helping international students navigate the transition from campus to career, with its unique complexities compared to alternative study destinations. Additionally, international students will have very different perspectives to those of their domestic peers on career options. When choosing an international study route, they will simultaneously consider potential career paths at home, their destination and in other countries too.
Our richest discussion at NAFSA had the international student voice at its heart. Convening an event with Gateway, we welcomed Dr Jang, a former international student to share her insights and experience. Our objective was to explore the opportunities for American institutions to the best support talented international students to achieve their career goals, beyond delivering exceptional teaching. It was powerful to hear from a graduate who has forged a successful career in America.
For all students taking the step into university education, a welcoming community is of course a significant factor. For the ten thousand international students we are guiding this year into global higher education courses and institutions that are right for them, that community is vitally important, pre and post arrival.
And this is a two-way process — maintaining cultural connections with home supports international students to feel grounded, reducing the potential for overwhelm in a country that will be filled with the new: language, street signs, transport, food, customs, people, education systems and so much more. At the same time, international students are excited to immerse themselves in the experience of living and studying abroad, and this too must be supported. What Dr Jang emphasized on these points was their relevance in assisting international students from campus to career.
Creating ready-made communities for international students on arrival signals support and understanding. Buddy-ups can facilitate adjustment and can be established in advance of a student’s first visit to campus. These communities may also be able to contribute to student recruitment and content that will resonate, reflecting language and attitudes at home and sharing their views on the academic and employment prospects of a global education.
From here, our conversations moved to spin-out affinity groups, such as international student career clubs where discussions of cultural differences and professional expectations can take place. These groups will deliver peer-support and shared experience, but they can also act as a sounding board for those universities looking to enhance their professional development programs for international students. Affinity groups can steer where energies will yield the best results, from guidance to address the realities of staying and working in the US, through to the skills required for any job market and an understanding of international sponsorship around the world.
If successful, there is the potential to evolve these groups further by incorporating alumni, who can offer mentoring and advice on employment searches both domestically and abroad. With co-benefits for mentors and mentees, both parties will nurture skills that can be added to their CVs and may be able to help with the formation of local employer forums, building connections between international graduates and future talent.
Meaningful engagement that responds to student expectations will evolve the environment and experience for international students to thrive, from prearrival, for the duration of their studies and beyond. In return universities can create sustainable growth and diversification of their student communities.