Building a sense of belonging for international students: Insights from International Student Lecturers

Sumeya Loonat (De Montfort University)
Di Zhang (De Montfort University)
Xiaozhe Cai (De Montfort University)

Monday, April 4, 2022 11:00 AM - 11:45 AM

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Session Outline

De Montfort University has a very diverse student population with over half of our student population from a BAME background. This diversity is further enriched by the 2,700 plus international students who join us each year; the majority of these are direct entrant students from China studying in the faculty of Business and Law. In 2018, as a response to growing international student numbers and the need to further support our international students within the Business school, the roles of International Student Lecturers were created. These roles provide contextualised academic support and personal tutoring for international students and support the student transition to UK Higher Education academic culture and learning.

It is important to identify specific characteristics, needs and challenges of our Chinese international students, where the focus needs to shift from homogenising their identities to develop a more nuanced approach which considers students’ previous study, cultural background, expectations and linguistic challenges (Zhang-Wu, 2022). Chinese students’ needs are particularly complex, given the transition they have to make from their home, social and academic culture and these differing experiences can sometimes lead to a misalignment in expectations (Lowes, 2018).

Under the Covid-19 pandemic it has become more difficult to connect with students within a personal tutoring context, and students have reported increased feelings of isolation from peers, tutors and the institution while studying remotely. As a response, we have increased our focus on the induction process as a key area in which to integrate targeted support by: embedding extra-curricular study skills sessions; designing and developing contextualised resources; and delivering group personal tutoring events and activities as a means for students to develop a sense of community.

The main objective for this session is to highlight the roles of the International Student Lecturers and the support given to students during the induction stage to the end of the first term. We will detail the implementation of face to face extra-curricular activities for on-campus students to build relationships with each other and develop a sense of belonging, and virtual activities for our late arrivals as a means to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation away from campus. We will discuss the integration of contextualised academic skills provision for students based on resource development and our designated extra-curricular study skills teaching module which has been highly successful, attracting around 400 students in attendance for each session. We will conclude with a discussion evaluating the effectiveness of our approach using staff and student feedback around personal tutoring experiences, expectations and challenges.