Improving Durham’s international student experience
International students make up approximately 16% of Durham’s student population, but do they benefit from the ‘Durham difference’ as much as home students do? According to recent research, the experience of Durham international students, and the Durham International Office, the answer is yes.
In an interview, the International Office stressed that Durham appeals to international students for many of the same reasons as home students: for its renowned academic standing, beautiful environment and the supportive community offered by its colleges.
The International Office also added that Durham provides a “truly British experience” for international students, “combining history and tradition with cutting edge facilities and engaging courses”. International students do, according to the International Office, face their own unique difficulties such as their more difficult application process, immigration issues, and potentially traveling thousands of miles to get to university. Once settled in, international students experience the same difficulties as home students including time management, homesickness and proper nutrition.
However, many of the challenges encountered by international students cannot be foreseen by university administration and are ultimately what make their experience so enriching. Being an international student is hardly the exotic experience that one might expect from a brochure. Cultural differences can provide an unwelcome shock: one first-year Norwegian student was startled at the lack of stamina of her female colleagues on her first night out in Durham.
Another international first year student was “surprised at the lack of knowledge” on the part of British students about her home country. The same student added that encountering these issues on a daily basis can be an “exhausting experience” at times.
According to Catherine Montgomery, author of Understanding the International Student Experience, international students are often stereotyped as slow learners with poor English and an inability to think critically. However, after research on seven students from China, India, Nepal, Indonesia, Italy and the Netherlands attending a British university, Montgomery found that international students are mature, quick to respond and to learn. They are also better motivated, focused and are higher achievers than their non-international peers.
Perhaps it is the overcoming of uniquely international difficulties that transform foreign students for the better. As one first-year international student put it, “you are forced to grow up” as an international student. “You can’t just go home for the weekend if you have a problem – you need to deal with it yourself, and this makes you stronger.”