The effects that COVID-19 may have on international students and possible ways to integrate during this challenging climate?
The recent global outbreak of COVID-19 has affected the lives of everyone around the world, and Australia is no exception. Yet, no other demographic has had their daily life impacted more significantly than international students. International students, who already face assimilating into a different culture and the hurdles that come with studying overseas, will encounter even grander challenges.
International students commonly rely on casual and part-time work for an income to survive on during their studies (Morris, Mitchell & Ramia, 2020). Hence, their ability to pay for their private housing, which is frequently overpopulated, will be significantly tested. Then comes the shift to online learning, where students will be required to adapt to a different learning style and will need the self-discipline that is essential for remote learning success.
There is evidence that students enrolled in online programs may have difficulty adapting to the universities’ online tools. (Butz et al., 2015). Couple this with social isolation, and the mental toll that it takes (Beaunoyer et al., 2020; Miller, 2020), international students are experiencing a time of both complexity and uncertainty.
However, the situation is not all dire, and international students have the chance to engage in ways they would not be able to, without COVID-19. Universities and international students should look to a few key strategies to ensure positive integration during this challenging climate.
Social media as an opportunity for untapped integration potential.
Despite students spending much more time online, social media and connective services are currently underutilised, and can offer substantial benefit. International students who engage on social media, be it only to keep in contact with personal contacts, present with better psychological wellbeing while abroad (Park et al. 2014). Additionally, a study by Forbush and Focault-Welles (2016) found that pre-arrival online interactions between international students and networks within the future host country provided positive indications of future sociocultural adaptation. Pang (2020) also found a strong correlation between students who engaged in the use of social networking sites and their levels of positive future psychological, sociocultural, and academic integration.
Technology introduction program
It cannot be assumed that students will have the digital know-how to make the most of the online learning tools (Judd, 2018; Stephan et al., 2019). Universities should look into providing technology induction programs that teach international students the foundations of the online software. In doing so, students would receive a boost to their socio-emotional mental state, and productivity levels (Beaunoyer et al., 2020).
Shared culture program
I advise universities to facilitate programs through social media. More specifically, programs that engage domestic students and previous international alumni with current international students. A “sharing of culture” program, which pairs volunteer domestic students studying a foreign language with an international student that shares the same language, would be a progressive initiative. As Li and Peng (2019) assert, personal communication may generate personal connections, which consequently may produce promising social integration. Many international students experience shyness and anxiety due to cultural differences. Thus, international students may benefit from establishing communications online first, before developing in-person relationships.
Build on current social networking programs
Another proposal is for an increase in online networking and support programs. Similar to the previous cultural sharing idea, universities should look into offering networking services that provide opportunities for international student alumni to network with current students. While this is not a new idea, COVID-19 has presented an opportunity to leverage these programs to a greater extent. It is known that Facebook networking groups provide a more gradual and informal environment to interact (Tian et al., 2011). Therefore, online social networking programs would be beneficial for international students who regularly present with shyness, to engage in a slower and more accumulative process. This would also help mitigate the fear and pressure that may come with informal social interactions.
These networking events and groups would allow international students to develop connections with important contacts, which would provide future opportunities for both part-time employment and social integration.
Australia currently has one of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, which has been taken to another level in the state of Victoria. As such, implementing programs that offer international students the ability to integrate more effectively and relieve stress and anxiety, are fundamental for maintaining Australia’s quality educational reputation.
Beaunoyer, E., Dupéré, S. and Guitton, M.J., 2020. COVID-19 and digital inequalities: Reciprocal impacts and mitigation strategies. Computers in Human Behavior, p.106424.
Butz, N.T., Stupnisky, R.H. and Pekrun, R., 2015. Students’ emotions for achievement and technology use in synchronous hybrid graduate programmes: A control-value approach. Research in Learning Technology, 23.
Forbush, E. and Foucault-Welles, B., 2016. Social media use and adaptation among Chinese students beginning to study in the United States. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 50, pp.1-12.
Händel, M., Stephan, M., Gläser-Zikuda, M., Kopp, B., Bedenlier, S. and Ziegler, A., 2020. Digital readiness and its effects on higher education student socio-emotional experiences in the context of COVID-19 pandemic.
Judd, T. 2018. The rise and fall (?) of the digital natives. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (AJET), 34(5).
Li, L. and Peng, W., 2019. Transitioning through social media: International students' SNS use, perceived social support, and acculturative stress. Computers in Human Behavior, 98, pp.69-79.
Morris, A., Mitchell, E., and Ramia, G., 2020. Why coronavirus impacts are devastating for international students in private rental housing’. The Conversation, 7 April, retrieved 2 September 2020, https://theconversation.com/why-coronavirus-impacts-are-devastating-for-international-students-in-private-rental-housing-134792
Pang, H., 2020. Is active social media involvement associated with cross-culture adaption and academic integration among boundary-crossing students? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 79, pp.71-81.
Park, N., Song, H. and Lee, K.M., 2014. Social networking sites and other media use, acculturation stress, and psychological well-being among East Asian college students in the United States. Computers in Human Behavior, 36, pp.138-146.
Stephan, M., Markus, S., & Gläser-Zikuda, M.,2019. Students' achievement emotions and online learning in teacher education. Frontiers in Education, 4, Article 109, 665.
Tian, S.W., Yu, A.Y., Vogel, D. and Kwok, R.C.W., 2011. The impact of online social networking on learning: a social integration perspective. International Journal of Networking and Virtual Organisations, 8(3-4), pp.264-280.