Student Life

Counselling and Personal Development

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Adjusting to a new culture

In moving to a new country to study, or moving from a rural to city area, many students will find that there is a time of adjustment. Change brings with it feelings of excitement and stimulation as well as feelings of inadequacy and fear.

A range of statements from ‘this is fantastic’ to ‘what have I done?’ can be expected.

In working with and teaching students who are making a cultural transition it can be valuable to keep in mind that there will be times when they simply have not heard or do not understand what you have asked of them simply because they were not emotionally ready to do so.

The W curve (70KB) indicates those times when students may not be able to absorb what you are saying or do something in the desired time frame.

If you feel that an individual student is struggling with adjustment issues there are a few things you can do to help.   

Choosing an appropriate time to give out important information

As noted on the W curve diagram, students in the first few weeks can be feeling very unhappy, isolated, lonely and despondent. This is not the time to try and explain plagiarism or university rules around special consideration. If the rigours of the academic calendar require important matters to be presented in the first few weeks then you will need to repeat this information at a later date as students may not be able to comprehend what you are saying.

The report titled  Identifying and Providing Culturally Relevant Support Services to International Students by Wendy Paulusz, Division of Student Life 2004 provides examples of how to present information to enhance the understanding of international students.  For example:

Present information in a number of ways

Verbally Visually
In depth and as key points Handouts
Overhead Deakin online - web
Powerpoint

Repeat key messages

For important matters, eg exam information, details of an assignment, repeat the information three or four times. Each time you repeat the information you could use a different mode of communication, a different time of day or require an acknowledgement from your students.

Use paraphrasing

Ask the student to repeat back to you what they have heard and provide guidance and clarification where they have not heard correctly.

Peer support and mentoring

Linking an individual student with a peer or mentor allows them to develop a personal relationship with that person. This relationship is important in that it provides reassurance to the individual, gives a message of support, assists with feelings of isolation and allows important information to be conveyed in a way that suits that person.

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Refer to support services

Where the individual student is having difficulties adjusting it may be that they need assistance with getting established, meeting people or dealing with their own emotions. There are a number of support services that you can refer the student to for assistance.

Note: If you are unsure whether or not the student is experiencing transition difficulties then you can discuss the behaviour with a counsellor who may be able to assist you identify the issue and possible sources of support/assistance.

The services available for support and assistance are:

  • Counselling Services in student life can assist students with their feelings and emotions associated with transition;
  • Study skills workshops; focus on the development of academic skills and skill development assists students in gaining confidence. They also provide opportunities for the individual to meet other students;
  • Chaplaincy provides opportunities for students to meet and talk about life and spirituality and often the chaplains run social groups based on matters of interest to the participants, e.g. conversations in English, cooking with Australian food;
  • DUSA hosts a range of clubs and societies that are open to all students
  • Careers counsellors can provide assistance to students questioning if they have made the right choice in regards to their study and career objectives.
  • DUSA provide assistance with off campus housing for students who are still struggling to find somewhere suitable to live.

Taking it further

  • Hellsten, M, 2003 Students in Transition: Needs and Experiences of International Students in Australia. Paper presented at the 16th Australian International Education Conference, Hobart, Tasmania. School of Education/ACES Macquarie University N.S.W.
  • Joss, N Holland D Postill K, 2003 Peer Mentoring Program Manual :The how-to of running a peer mentoring program. Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences, Deakin University.
  • Kantanis, T 2000, The role of social transition in students’ adjustment to the first-year of university. Research papers. Monash University Transition Program.

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Deakin University acknowledges the traditional land owners of present campus sites.

17th March 2011