Interacting with international students has a number of positive effects on students, including sharpening their ability to learn languages and acquire new skills independently, according to a new study.
David Jamieson-Drake and Jiali Luo, two directors of research at Duke University, discovered these findings by questioning alumni from three separate graduating classes over the last eighteen years. The pair found that those who considered themselves highly interactive with international students were more likely to have challenged their own belief systems. There were also a number of practical skills and qualities which these highly interactive students exhibited, including a better capability with computers, as well as a tendency to be more creative.
It’s these kinds of findings which the education sector would be keen to promote, especially when it comes to tight government control of student immigration and funding. We spoke to both Jamieson-Drake and Luo about their study, including how their expectations were surpassed. For instance, while it was somewhat predictable that highly interactive students would be more capable with foreign languages, the pair said, ‘it was less obvious that more interactive domestic students would question their beliefs on serious subjects like sexuality and religion’. With universities always keen to promote their production of well-rounded individuals, assimilation of international students into the community really is key according to this study.
Role of the university
However, the pair were quick to distinguish between numbers of students and actual interactions. Simply increasing the amount of international students on a campus does not automatically ensure close interactions – there has to be some work or effort on behalf of the university to instigate these, or else risk students “sticking to their own” if this message isn’t clear enough (universities must be ‘open and forthright about their goals and values’, and ‘proactive at the grass roots level’). This has obvious implications on the kinds of marketing materials and rhetoric which institutions spread, both on campus and externally.
Employability is becoming an increasingly important factor for students when applying to university, having seen those before them struggle in a competitive graduate job market since the 2008 economic downturn. Students today appreciate that they have to go that bit further to guarantee success in their chosen career path once they graduate, and this begins at university. Jamieson-Drake and Luo brought this up when asked what they think they would find if they were to look at more recent graduates. The pair said that they have looked at some data post-2008, which supports the theory that students today value ‘cross-cultural communications and the ability to work in different and/or mixed cultural environments'.
The value of on-campus activities were also reiterated. The results of the study indicate that cultural and ethnic societies on campus – despite being significantly more popular amongst international students (54-65%) than domestic students (20-31%) – did ultimately serve a purpose to support international students. Most notably they allowed students from abroad to interact with ‘older peers who have already gone through struggles similar in some ways to the ones they’re facing’. However, it would still be in the interest of domestic students to get involved in these activities.
5, 675 students from the 1985, 1995 and 2000 graduating classes of four private research universities were surveyed. Their study was published in the June edition of the Journal of International Students.
David Jamieson-Drake is Director of Institutional Research at Duke University, with Master’s degrees in Divinity from Yale and in Business Administration from Duke, and a PhD in Archaeology from Duke.
Jiali Luo is Assistant Director of Institutional Research at Duke University, with BA and MA in English Language and Literature from Southwest and Fudan, respectively, and PhD in Educational Leadership and Higher Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.