Challenges International and Multilingual Students Face

Center for International and Cultural Education

Students coming from international, multicultural, and multilingual backgrounds are presented with many opportunities here at Gustavus and bring a wealth of resources and experiences from their languages and cultures that will help them succeed. However, these students also face some significant challenges, some of which are described below.


Linguistic challenges 
All of our first-year students are being asked to read and write much more here than in high school. They are also tasked with listening to complex content and being asked to speak about difficult issues, sometimes on the spot. Many international and multilingual students report that it takes them much more time and energy to complete these tasks if they are using English as a second language.

Cultural challenges
International students who have only recently moved to the U.S. must adjust to a new culture on top of learning how to be a college student. This is much harder when the expectations of academic and campus culture are not made explicit. Most international students will experience culture shock at some point, to varying degrees, which can manifest in a range of ways that are often misunderstood. Some symptoms of culture shock include: feelings of helplessness, boredom, irritability, increased or decreased sleep, hostility, physical pain, social withdrawal, and so on. 

Life challenges
All Gusties have to learn how to manage their time, make friends, connect to their campus community, and stay afloat financially. Many of our international and multilingual students are juggling these challenges on top of cultural and linguistic challenges.

Miconceptions and discrimination
Many of our international, multilingual, and multicultural students are also students of color and/or first-generation students. That means that this slice of the student population is often faced with misperceptions about their cultures; microagressions around race, ethnicity, and/or class; dominant views of American exceptionalism; or even outright racism. Some students may be a racial and/or linguistic minority in every class they attend on a given day, which research shows has real pscyhological repercussions. This is a heavy load on its own and is even worse when taken together with the challenges outlined above.

Much content from this and the following pages is inspired by and adapted from portions of Fostering International Student Success In Higher Education (2014) by Shawna Shapiro, Raichle Farrelly, and Zuzana Tomas, which can be found in our library, as well as Shawna Shapiro's faculty development workshop on supporting multilingual/international students at Macalester College, summer 2018.