Some students can face a complete culture shock depending on their experience of travelling or studying in another country,” attests Grazyna Sutherland, Principal of London International Study Centre (LISC). “This can be from how to use the bathroom facilities to the weather, to the food and table manners or even the sense of humour.” Institutions follow a range of orientation measures to help students adjust.
“From the moment they arrive, our house parents, academic and admissions staff and language liaison officers work with our overseas students to settle them in,” says Steve Jandrell, Principal at Queen Ethelburga’s, York, adding that all induction information is provided in the student’s own language. At Abbey DLD Group of colleges in Birmingham, Cambridge, London and Manchester induction sessions take up the first few days of term, relates Lilla Somogyi, Marketing Manager, and during early weeks teaching staff work on a number of orientation issues.
Sutherland adds that at LISC, which provides homestay accommodation in its locale, the induction session “covers not only crucial facts about the study centre, but also what is expected of them when staying at a family, the local area, help with practical matters, and how to make the most of their study in England from the educational, cultural and social perspective”.
Predictably, language is one of the first barriers. “Our international office works closely with our overseas students to make them more confident with their use of English,” says Jandrell. “Our academic staff will assess them quickly and confidently as to their ability, which will put them into the right working group and so aid their comprehension in subjects.” Somogyi agrees language can be a problem, especially for those who have only learnt in class. “Small class sizes at Abbey DLD Colleges mean that students are forced to interact with each other and interact in class. Tutors don’t allow students to hide but understand their individual limitations.”
Guidance in UK study styles is also crucial. “From the academic perspective, there is a strong emphasis on the development of sound study skills and revision techniques to enable students to achieve their academic potential,” says Sutherland.
Ongoing pastoral care continues to ease students into UK life. Queen Ethelburga’s utilises a student buddy system, explains Jandrell. “With their student buddies they [students] can find out quickly where to go and what to do.” He continues, “Our house parents work hard to overcome any homesickness and make sure students are able to keep in touch with their families.” At Abbey DLD Colleges, each student is allocated a personal tutor who they can go to with any academic or study issues. The colleges also employ a mentor system.
Sutherland says recognising signs is key. “With one-to-one meetings, regular updates from homestay families and feedback from experienced teachers, as well as staff in our study centres, we know if a student is not happy and can deal with this immediately.”
Guardianship providers also play a vital role, says Lana Foster, Managing Director at Bright World Education & Guardianships. “We are here to make them feel safe, comfortable and happy. We try to encourage them to trust us and know that we are their parents’ mouthpiece and independent from the school, so not there to make them speak English, do their homework or judge them.” Bright World also has a buddy system so students have an independent mentor. “On the day student arrive, their Bright World buddy calls the student to say hello and make sure they are settled in and tell them when they will visit them, which is usually in the first day or two of arrival.”
As one of the largest source markets, China is illustrative of some of the orientation challenges that students can face. Jandrell explains, “In the UK, we tend to have three large meals, whereas many of our Chinese students would expect to have seven or eight smaller ones throughout the day.” As such two chefs have been brought over to create authentic meals and a Chinese snack vending machine is provided. Meanwhile, “In the classroom, Chinese students may have been used to up to 60 pupils around them and they would never have been expected to contribute to the lesson...Right from the start we work on encouraging them to initiate discussions in the classroom and to confidently question things.”
Ultimately, the goal of a successful orientation programme is for an overseas student to feel they are just a student. “Our aim is to fully integrate the international students so they are not seen as a separate entity,” concludes Somogyi.
Agents and orientation
Agents can play a key role in the orientation process. Being as pro-active as possible with written material provided by Abbey DLD is important, urges Lilla Somogyi. “Some agencies arrange pre-departure orientations,” she adds. “These are excellent as they allow students to make contact with other students who will be travelling to the UK at the same time.” Maintaining regular contact with students, especially over the first term, is also crucial. Arranging an earlier arrival is useful, Steve Jandrell at Queen Ethelburga’s advises. “Some students only arrive in the country just a matter of hours before school term starts. It would make sense if they were able to arrive even just a couple of days earlier so they can get used to the climate, culture and language.”
Jandrell continues, “It would also help if students came with up-to-date and accurate Ielts assessments so that we can very quickly judge their language ability.” Grazyna Sutherland at London International Study Centre confirms, “A good knowledge of the UK, its history and weather also helps and we would expect (if not insist) that an agent visit us before sending students so they can speak with conviction of their impression and talk about the staff they have met, what the facilities are like and typical local guardian homestay families.”