Welcoming international students INTO Hofstra
Photo Courtesy of Hofstra University
Located on the second floor of the Axinn Library, the INTO Center is a new resource for international students.
According to Pearsons.com, the world’s leading service devoted to furthering education beyond high school, “Hofstra currently enrolls more than 1,000 international students who come from 81 countries.” The diversity these students bring to our campus adds an invaluable amount of culture and color, making all of our experiences here richer.
Hofstra University recently opened the new INTO Center, a facility of international study specialists. According to Frank Gaughan, the academic director of the center, INTO is designed “to improve learning outcomes for international students.” Gaughan ensures the academic integrity of the INTO Center by managing the 34 pathway programs as well as the Academic English program, which is non-credit bearing.
Before the INTO Center, Hofstra had the English Language Program, which essentially did the same thing. However, INTO also provides more cultural support for students, as well as credit-earning English as a Second Language (ESL) programs for international students. Gaughan explained that the ESL curriculum is more comprehensive than its predecessor. It not only covers reading and writing, but speaking and listening as well. The classes available to these students vary depending on their level of English proficiency, ensuring that each student gets what they need.
The center also provides advising to students on what courses to take alongside the ESL classes. Less language intensive subjects, such as math and art, give these students an opportunity to gain English proficiency while simultaneously working toward their degrees. Students who are at the lowest level of English proficiency, operating with less than 500 words or memorized phrases in their vocabulary, will not be taking any courses. Instead, the INTO Center offers support while the student takes up to 20 hours a week of ESL. This process may take a semester or up to two years, depending on where the student is on their language journey. The services the center offers eliminate the language barrier impeding the educational trek of international students.
Once their proficiency improves, Gaughan explained, they will begin taking courses. “Once you get to the point where you’re taking some courses, your proficiency is very high,” he said. “You’re able to speak and have exchanges with other English speakers; you can speak in paragraphs. You may still make mistakes, but we all make mistakes in speaking and in writing. You’re able to interact with others in the class and then we provide support and guidance in terms of both continuing language development and the courses.”
The INTO Center not only operates at Hofstra, but at 11 other universities, creating a network of facilities dedicated to success of international students. Gaughan explained how the centers have significantly improved the outcomes for these students, noting that “their success rates are 80% higher, meaning that students who are on a pathway program taking ESL courses alongside other courses move to degree seeking status at rates of 80% or better.”
The creation of the INTO Center is meant to subdue cultural barriers that impact students who come to the U.S. in pursuit of a higher degree. Though professors are at liberty to grade written work as they please, the INTO Center does provide advice to faculty, taking into consideration the language hurdles international students have to overcome. “We provide support for faculty in developing rubrics, thinking through their rubrics, thinking critically about those rubrics to see what it is they want to assess and how they want to assess it,” Gaughan said.
College is a trying experience for any young adult, but international students have the added trial of a brutal culture shock.
Gaughan explained, “Sometimes students are 18, sometimes 20 years old, [and] they’re on the other side of the world. Their language proficiency in English is limited, although growing.”
He described how the center offers emotional support to combat this challenge. “That’s where we provide support for them in terms of socialization. We provide housing support for them so that they can live here; many of the students, especially the undergraduates, live here on campus. We provide field trips, conversation partners, game night, workshops about how to navigate both U.S. culture and U.S. academic culture,” he said.
He went on to explain how “it’s sort of two different worlds for them,” which is the main struggle that can initially affect the education and overall well-being of international students. However, after that, the problems they face are very similar to the ones that domestic students face, such as making friends.
International students have specific markers they need to achieve in order to reach degree-hitting status. They not only need to adapt to the homeostatic upset that comes with being immersed in a new environment, but must quickly learn how to interact in diverse environments successfully, where language is not even a common ground. The INTO Center also has a director of student experience, dedicated to working with students on the basket of issues that will inevitably come up as the center continues to grow.
The INTO Center also has a peer teacher program. There are currently four peer teachers assigned to over 100 students enrolled in the program. Gaughan explained that the center is essentially running a leadership series. He said, “It’s sort of a project-based learning model where these students come in and identify issues here at Hofstra or in their program, and work to identity solutions.” The peer teachers help facilitate small groups in efforts to guide international students toward articulating their problems correctly and identifying solutions. Then, at the end of the day, they present that information.
Gaughan’s hope for the INTO Center is that international students will grow to feel more comfortable here at Hofstra, which is a task that the center cannot accomplish on its own. “I’d like, number one, for the whole Hofstra community [to] move toward a more welcoming and diverse environment, where international students feel they have a second home here,” he said. “And I think that if we are able to do that, then many of the other goals that fall underneath that will be made a lot easier.”
“If students feel welcome and at home, then they socialize and their language skills will improve, and then their learning outcomes will improve. And on the other hand, if they feel that they are isolated and or that they have nothing to do, then their language skill stagnates, and then probably their learning outcomes are not what they could be either.”
The INTO Center is Hofstra’s attempt at offering all students the same chance at success, but it is clear that the work goes beyond the walls of the facility located on the second floor of the Axinn Library. The colorful campus we enjoy demands that we make efforts toward embracing international students. It demands that domestic students interact with those working toward improving their English and build relationships despite apparent cultural barriers. The difficulties college students face extend far beyond school. Deliberate efforts toward inclusion are the only way Hofstra can become an environment where students, despite their background, can truly succeed.