International students need to overcome many hurdles to become a student in a university in the United States. In addition to the university application process, students must successfully demonstrate English language proficiency by way of the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exams. Additionally, international students must successfully complete the visa application process and find funding for full tuition with limited financial aid resources.

Once successfully admitted to DU, international students face cultural and linguistic challenges and adjustments, adherence to immigration regulations and academic integrity requirements on top of family pressure to succeed. This overall acclimation process can take many months for the new international student to understand and accept. After international students begin their studies, they are often surprised to see how different classroom expectations and behaviors are in a U. S. university setting. Several of these differences are expectations regarding student active learning and dialogic participation, and the student/instructor relationship.

Practical Ways to Improve Communication

It is important to be aware of and make a conscious effort to effectively communicate with international students by:

  • Choosing words carefully.
  • Avoiding the use of jargon, and acronyms.
  • Avoiding culturally specific references that may not be understood.
  • Avoiding accusatory phrases such as “You did this” or “You should not have.”
  • Trying to put complex or controversial responses into context for the student.
  • Paying attention to tone as it may convey unintended sarcasm or criticism.
  • Using neutral phrases and recapping important points in the conversation to confirm understanding and agreement.
  • Being mindful of non-verbal language and making sure you’re not sending mixed messages.
  • Being aware of the spatial relationship between you and the student. Communicating at the same physical level is always more respectful.

When working with international students slow down your rate of speaking and don’t try to dominate a conversation or win a discussion. International students need extra time to process language, syntax, context, and content relative to a particular subject domain.

Offer help to the student as some international students may not tell the instructor they do not understand something because they may perceive this as being equivalent to telling the U.S. instructor that she is doing a poor job of teaching.

Academic Integrity

Guide and inform students of the appropriate rules for acknowledging sources used in their papers and presentations. This guidance needs to be clearly stated in the syllabus and emphasized in class on a regular basis.

At the heart of working with and teaching international students is respect.


At the heart of working with and teaching international students is respect. Treat international students in a manner that shows them their words are important and of value to you. Listen to them carefully and consider providing context that explains the “why” as well as the “what” in order to increase understanding and acceptance.

Be mindful not to stereotype or generalize about race, nationality, religion, sex or ethnic group. Don’t single out a student to be representative of an entire nationality or as the arbiter of their nation’s policies and political practices.

Additional Resources

The content on this page was adapted from David Gowdey, DU’s Director of International Student & Scholar Services.