How to Enhance the College Experience for International Students
Barry Telford
Barry Telford
CEO, Universities West, Sodexo North America President, Sodexo Canada

International students bring to American college campuses a sense of inclusiveness and diversity. In return, U.S. students expose their international counterparts to American customs including the ability to practice freedom of speech. In both cases, this mutually beneficial alliance formed among American students and those from abroad fortifies the campus community by and large.

Although research shows an increase in international student enrollment, we see that a majority of these students become dissatisfied with the American “college experience.” Uneven Experiences, a study exploring  international students’ discontentment explains that, “many institutions have seen their international undergraduate enrollment numbers double, which has tested their ability to facilitate the academic and social integration of international students with diverse academic and cultural backgrounds.” Overall, this rising demand brings forth a slew of unsolved issues concerning international students.

Attracting and retaining international students can be especially impactful to an institution’s financial performance, its reputation and perceived brand value; so failing to meet the needs of this campus population isn’t something that should be ignored. Key to attracting and retaining international students is enhancing quality of life; creating an environment that helps them transition to life on campus with both the familiarity and comforts of home and ways to explore and connect on campus. Campus administrators must recognize the cultural disconnect among American and international cohorts. To strengthen the sense of community on campuses for international students institutions must promote leadership programs and clubs which rely on teamwork and togetherness. They must also expand college communities’ global perspective by adding classes and workshops focusing on multiculturalism – with an emphasis on thought-provoking conversation and dialogue.  Furthermore, instilling a sense of confidence among international students, and helping them to feel safe, calls for both international and American students to participate in campus events which celebrate inclusiveness and promote cross-culturalism.

In an article titled, “The Paradigm Shift in International Student Engagement” author Anh Le suggests educators completely reconstruct the entire system in which we engage with these students; this starts with renouncing the idea that international students are weak and defenseless. It also means opposing the idea that these students are “observers” of our culture when in fact they’re sharing their culture with our students as they navigate their own academic expeditions. Likewise, in supporting international students college communities must encourage these students to network and develop connections outside of their culture. These are connections that will help them prepare for success in academia and beyond. For example, international students greatly appreciate guidance given by professors or residence life directors. A simple reiteration of an assignment, an additional lesson on a topic to clear their confusion, or a personal invite to a campus event is a true sign of compassion in the eyes of an international student – something that is often taken for granted by their American counterparts. Lastly, as those hosting international students we are to treat them as active citizens by encouraging them to share their opinions, values, and beliefs on topics of contention. This not only supports our international cohorts, but exposes our students to worldly viewpoints – a quality exemplified when entering the workforce post academia.

In conclusion, the key to attracting and retaining international students is to foster environments where these students can feel safe, comfortable and confident—able to thrive and grow. This includes helping to develop a global perspective and to create a sense community among campuses. Additionally, it means to instill a sense of confidence among these students, so they not only positively impact our campuses but grow into the multicultural leaders needed to pioneer the future.


Barry Telford is the CEO of Universities West for Sodexo North America and the President of Sodexo Canada. A strong advocate for the new performance frontier: Quality of Life, Mr. Telford believes that great performance is driven by strong, inclusive leadership based on family and community-centered values and a commitment to serve others.   Mr. Telford serves on the Board of the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation, Toronto’s Second Harvest and the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business (CCAB).

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