Updated: Sep 23
“Is this worth it?” Many individuals ask this question as they weigh various investments of their time, money, and energy. One such investment is that of an international study program. Whether students are going abroad for one semester, or for their entire education, many questions and uncertainties may cross their minds. Some of which include whether or not they will be able to communicate with those of a different language, whether or not they will gain the rich learning experiences they desire, and whether or not they will succeed academically with so many factors added by transitioning to education outside one’s home country. All of these uncertainties funnel back to the first question: Is this worth it?
International students who have succeeded relative to those uncertainties would likely say yes, pursuing an international education is worth it. But how can students stack the odds in their favor? David Mendoza is the director of Orbit 5, an initiative established to help international students in Toronto, Canada achieve their educational and professional goals. Mendoza instructs international students to make four key contacts to help ensure they progress in language proficiency, gain rich learning experiences, and succeed academically while participating in an international education experience.
It is tempting to gravitate to others who are similar, especially to those similar in culture and language. However, Mendoza advises international students to connect with at least one peer that does not speak their native language. He explains that if “you are only hanging out with other students who speak your same language, you are just changing your geographic locations, but you are not immersing in the language.”
Many international students hope to one day work in the country where they get their education, or at least engage in business with individuals of that culture. To students coming to study in North America, Mendoza points out that they likely will be interviewed in and have to perform their work in the English language. Students studying in other countries will also find a similar case with the region’s given language. Accordingly, students should make an effort to immerse themselves in the language of their host country as much as possible while in their program.
Mendoza elaborates on this need, saying: “As an international student, it is paramount that you strengthen your communication abilities. You need to be able to articulate your ideas and your thoughts, to engage people in your conversations, so they can see the value that you can add to their organizations.” Connecting with someone who does not speak their native language will help international students immerse themselves in the language and environment they hope to work in. It will also make the educational journey more rewarding and enjoyable.
Similar to pushing lingual comfort zones, Mendoza encourages international students to expand their intellectual circles. He suggests connecting with at least one student in a different program. According to Mendoza, we tend to limit ourselves by associating only with students of the same field. “But this shouldn’t be the case. You should connect with people who are getting training in other areas… see if their interests, if their values, if their life stories align with yours.”
Connecting with those of other disciplines will open students’ minds to broader topics and issues. Mendoza suggests that students of different programs can collaborate to create incredible projects. For example, developing a business initiative with institutional support can further invite students to “solve specific problems or pain points that our societies are going through.” With so many opportunities present for international students, Mendoza advises, “don’t limit yourself; it’s a huge universe of possibilities out there when you make the right connections.”
While Mendoza’s first two suggested connections focus on intellectual development, the last two are directed at ensuring academic success and finding employment opportunities.
Connect with someone who teaches in your program
Connecting with someone teaching in their program will help international students not only stay on top of their degree requirements but, more importantly, help them make connections that could lead to future internships and career positions as well. One of the best options for international students is their program coordinator. Program coordinators likely have many connections and can also provide a view of what is happening behind the scenes. This puts them in a position to support international students particularly well. If connecting with the coordinator is difficult at the start of the semester, Mendoza suggests connecting with “someone from the faculty team that will be teaching your courses that specific semester.” The coordinator can be reached at a later time.
Approaching professors may be intimidating, but Mendoza advises students to start by telling them who you are, your story, where you come from, why you are excited about their course, and the biggest challenge that you think will prevent you from excelling in their class. Then students should let the relationship unfold so the professors can see their value, provide advice, and hopefully help to expedite their employment searches.
In addition to professors, there are many valuable resources and services offered on university and college campuses. International students should make an effort to connect with at least one person who can help direct them to such avenues. Mendoza teaches that “it is great to connect with someone who works at your institution because their job simply is to help you succeed. But you have to reach out.”
Taking in all the information provided during orientation and the start of the semester may be overwhelming. To overcome this, Mendoza suggests writing down the names of individuals who could be valuable connections. Reach out to these individuals later by email or directly knocking on their doors. If that feels daunting, international students should remember Mendoza’s advice from before to start by sharing their story and then proceed to ask how the individuals’ organizations or services can support them and help meet their needs.
Networking is a major catalyst in the career advancement of business professionals. Even local students can be intimidated or hesitant to reach out and form new, professional relationships with both peers and predecessors. For international students, the stakes are elevated as they make larger investments of time, money, and energy for their education. Additionally, international students likely have limited prior connections when they enter their host country. While networking and getting oriented in a new country can be overwhelming, connecting with someone who doesn’t speak their language, someone outside their program, someone teaching in their program, and someone who works at their institution will help international students get a running start in their education and prepare them for their profession.
To learn more from David Mendoza on how international students can make the most of their international experiences, view his Global Perspectives Summit 2020 presentation here.
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