The Residential Experience of International Students

Steven Tolman

With the push for the globalization of higher education, it is not surprising that the number of international students on college campuses continues to grow.  For the 2018-2019 academic year, the number of international students enrolled in the U.S. hit an all-time high with approximately 1.1 million students, which accounts for 5.5 percent of the total number of college students in the U.S. (IEE, 2019).  This continued growth in enrollment greatly benefits colleges and universities, as it further diversifies the academic community and provides a consistent and substantial financial revenue stream. However, if U.S. institutions do not ensure they are creating an environment where international students can flourish, they are at risk of losing their enrollment to other global destinations whether there is growing competition.

Rooted in the work of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it is critical to examine the environment created for international students.  All too often, international students are admitted into institutions who make the assumption these students will simply assimilate into the college or university.  In doing so, this can overlook the personal and academic needs of international students, which can provide a barrier to their success. This mentality of expecting international students to adapt seamlessly into a foreign institution and environment is as logical as trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole.  Instead, we should proactively look at our college campuses and identify ways to better accommodate the needs of international students. We have the privilege and responsibility to create an environment that meets the needs of all students, including international students. This presents Residence Life the opportunity to build a residential community where international students will be successful – academically and personally.

As we look to be intentional to create support structures for international students, the work of Astin (1975) reminds us that peers are central to student persistence.  To this end, peer mentoring programs have great potential to support international students and their success at the university. International students are given support from their peers, develop a social network through this peer-pairing, and are immediately given the highly-desired opportunity to interact with a domestic student.  This interaction with domestic students should not be underscored, as research has shown international students who interact with domestic students report being more satisfied, socially connected, and less homesick (Hendrickson, Rosen, & Aune, 2010). 

At the upcoming ACPA2020 CHRL Sponsored Program, “The Residential Experience of International Students”, we will explore the literature gap of support structures for international students living within residence halls.  This conversation will begin by sharing the findings of the recently published study that evaluated an international roommate-pairing program (IRP). The study’s findings suggest that environment and support structures are critical in the satisfaction and success of international students.  The conversation will continue by discussing best practices and lessons learned. Participants will have the opportunity to share successful approaches to supporting international students on their campuses.   

Presenter: Steven Tolman, Georgia Southern University


Astin, A. W. (1975). Preventing students from dropping out. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Hendrickson, B., Rosen, D., & Aune, R. (2011). An analysis of friendship networks, social 

connectedness, homesickness, and satisfaction levels of international students. 

International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35, 281-295. 

IIE (2015). Open Doors 2015: Report on International Student Exchange. Institute of International Education.


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