By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

Adjusting to college can be daunting for many students. Making that transition as an international student in a new country, facing a different culture, can extend the acclimation period and may result in a less successful transition.

Tips and tools to help international students through that process are available in a new “Leadership and Culture” program. It is being offered online for the first time to newly enrolled international students at Syracuse University. The free, non-credit course provides a quick-start guide to the kinds of information international students need to become accustomed to American life and culture, and to feel comfortable assuming leadership positions in class, on campus, and in the community.

Students can apply online by completing a quick assessment survey, a 200-word essay, and submitting a resume to Registration information is also being distributed at orientation sessions this weekend. The current course offering has room for 200 students. An online introduction to the program provides further details.

“International students face more challenges when it comes to socializing, performing well in class, and getting a job,” observed Dr. Martha Garcia-Murillo, a professor at the School of Information Studies who developed the free online course and wrote its accompanying textbook. “My concern is, do [international] students really know what is expected of them? I feel that they don’t know what they don’t know. Eventually they get it, but it can take six months to a year, maybe longer. In the meantime, they can feel inadequate and unhappy, and may not be obtaining the connections they need for support. I worry they will fail to take advantage of their stay at the university, not developing friendships, connections, or taking on volunteer roles that will improve their resume,” she explained.

Professor Garcia-Murillo saw the need for formalizing the teaching of leadership awareness and cultural acclimation based on her experience as director of the School’s Telecommunications and Network Management program. She observed that “a lot of international students come here with the expectation that once they complete their degree, they will get a job.” That desire may not always match reality, though, especially if students haven’t actively pursued leadership activities, the professor said.

While all students need to demonstrate leadership skills and experience to potential employers, the task can be more difficult for international students, according to Dr. Garcia-Murillo. Many must overcome ingrained cultural mores that may prevent them from being more outgoing in the classroom, interacting more openly with their professors, or taking opportunities to lead in the college community, she noted.  

“The intention of the program is to make them aware, have activities defined for them, so they become acclimated much more quickly. The hope is that they will do better in class, be more pro-active, feel more comfortable socializing with Americans, and getting into volunteer and campus activities so they can feel comfortable looking for an internship or a job.” It’s a skill set that is important for undergraduates, and even more so for graduate students, who are likely to be at SU for only a couple of years, she added.

The program previously had been taught in small classroom sessions. In order to scale the program to reach the number of international students entering Syracuse each year, Garcia-Murillo worked over the past year to translate it into an online format. Doing so allows the program to be offered more frequently, made available to larger numbers of students, and offered University-wide and perhaps beyond, she said.  The new online format with face to face sessions emerged from the collaboration of Dr. Garcia-Murillo with the Provost, the Office of Enrollment, the Slutzker Center for International Services, the Office of Student Activities, the Graduate School and Career Services.

Brochures offering program details are available at the Slutzker Center and via orientation programs for international students this coming week.