Feb 16, 2015

Reach

5 Academic Categories of International Students


Tom Knight provides a helpful way to look at ministry to international students according to their academic category.

What if we looked at international students according something other than their country of origin?

Other than by country, students can also be categorized by different categories of academic achievement. Students at different academic levels will need to be reached in different ways and on different time lines. Please understand that by identifying students by academic categories in no way prioritizes them or states that some are more important than others. It is merely a way to show where they are in the collegiate setting. Hopefully, this system will help readers understand that just thinking about students by country is not enough. Each category will be followed by some ideas to reach them.

Category 1 – English Language Students

Students in this category are in the United States to learn English. They could be at a community college or at an English learning “institute” connected with a college or university. They are here to prepare for the next step which is usually to enroll in a degree program. They may or may not stay in the same area where they study English. These students are usually the typical college age of 18-22, and have low levels of English. Depending on the level of their English when attending the English program, they usually stay 6 months to 2 years studying. Students at this level may enjoy and benefit from practice of English with native speakers. Thinking of ways to make English fun, accessible, and safe are key. By safe, students should feel it is ok to try to speak the language freely without fearing failure. Many students will need coaching and support during this phase of learning. Sometimes spouses of students will also fit in this category.

  • Partner with the university’s conversational English program to provide volunteers.
  • Mobilize your native English speakers to befriend and assist ESL students.

 

 

Category 2 – Exchange Students

Students at this level are typically college-age students. They are in the local university to take classes which count as credit back in their home universities. However, it is usually the first time for them to take classes totally in English. These students come from a wide variety of countries and have different levels of English. They usually stay six months to a year. They also want to experience many different aspects of American culture. These students will also like safe places to practice English, but also enjoy participating in culture programs and travel. A great way to meet exchange students is by being a host family, or helping them out in the early part of the semester with things like airport pickup, overnight stays, and shopping. Having American students that have already done study abroad can also be good connecting points.

  • Encourage your community partners to volunteer as host families for exchange students.
  • Mobilize your American undergraduate students as cultural guides for exchange students.
  • Design ministry events and trips to offer opportunities to learn about American culture and regional traditions.

 

Category 3 – Undergraduate Students

Students at this level are in the United States to receive a B.A. or B.S. degree. They are studying in English. These students usually have better English. Many of these students or their families are paying to go to school here. They may be from a more wealthy family, though sometimes they are being covered by a government scholarship program from their home country.   Many times they have also traveled more and have more money to spend. These students are usually the traditional age of college students. These students are in some ways more like American students in that they are integrated into college life more and for a longer time. These students will have longer time to process the claims of the Gospel and to observe Christians. These students will usually enjoy American students who invest in them as well as American families. English will be less and less a tool to reach them as they become confident in their skill. One should not be disappointed if they drop out of conversation times, or practice. For these students the social aspect of friendship is vital. If relationships are not built outside of English, these students will often drift away.

  • Again, utilize community partners as host families, which is a critical need for these students, especially during semester/quarter breaks.
  • Encourage your American students to invite these students into their life, perhaps even as roommates.
  • Design ministry events and trips to offer opportunities to learn about American culture and regional traditions.

 

 

 

Category 4 – Graduate Students

These students are here to pursue an advanced degree. These students will be older than other college students and may be married and have children. Many of them are studying on a scholarship if they are in a Ph.D. program. If in a master’s program they may be paying for it themselves. These programs can last from two to four years. If from a science background, these students may still have problems using their English. Working with these students will require less effort from American undergraduate students, and more from families. Those students who are married or have small children will face new challenges while in the US and could be greatly blessed by wise counsel from those who have faced similar issues. Volunteers will need to make sure that they process cultural difference when facing these issues. Attitudes about parenting, marriage, and family relationships could differ widely. However, these relationships will allow volunteers to show love and God’s word in the situation.

  • Connect these students with Christian leaders in their respective areas of study.
  • Consider ways to foster fellowship between these students and the American graduate students in your ministry.

 

 

 

 

Category 5 – Visiting Scholars

Visiting scholars are not actually students in the conventional sense. They are here to do post-doctorate work in various fields. They usually stay from one to two years. Sometimes they are only here for six to eight months. Most of them are married and perhaps have teenage or young children. Depending on the country, they may need help with English. Some programs allow them to bring spouses and children with them. Depending on their program, they may have extra time to explore American culture. Visiting scholars will have many of the same problems and issues of graduate students. Volunteer families will be able to minister to them in ways that younger, American students would not be able. Visiting scholars from China have been increasing over the years as the Chinese government sends more professors to do research abroad.

  • Though these scholars have significant academic credentials, many of them can be served through English conversational help.
  • Find ways to serve the visiting scholars’ spouses and children through relationships.

What have you noticed about different categories of international students?

What are your best ideas for serving their unique needs?

 


about the author

Tom Knight


Tom is a collegiate strategist in North Carolina, specializing in international student work. He holds a law degree from Wake Forest and an Mdiv from Princeton. He is the author of No Passport Required: Collegiate Ministry as Global Missions.