The International Student's Plight
There are a lot of students over the globe who want to pursue education beyond the borders of one's own country. There is a lot of demand for admission in top engineering colleges of India. International students, as well as children of Indians, settled abroad, can also get to study engineering in India. The top engineering institutions like NITs and IIITs have reserved seats for NRI's and Children of Indians Working in Gulf (CIWG) under DASA (Direct Admission of Students Abroad), Non-CIWG, and admissions under ICCR but what after they get admitted?
For some, it might be easy to adjust, but many have a hard time adjusting at this institute amidst the cultural shock. Here, at NIT Rourkela to address the interests and needs of the international student body, the administration collaborates with the institute counselling services. But there still exists more than a few problems unresolved. Team Monday Morning surveyed to know from them about their predicaments. The following is a brief from the results garnered,
The various programmes through which international students can get admission in NIT Rourkela are:
DASA stands for Direct Admission of Students Abroad. CIWG (Children of Indian Workers in Gulf Countries) a category under DASA scheme, started by Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, for the children of Indian expatriates (NRIs/OCIs/PIOs) in Gulf countries, namely Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates who want to study in top engineering colleges like NITs and IIITs.There are two critical benefits for CIWG in DASA scheme: a) Reserved seats for CIWG candidates in all colleges, b) Have to pay the same college fee as students in India. Under this scheme, the aspirants do not have to go through the admission process that resident aspirants do. They are selected based on their SAT scores.
DASA (Non- CIWG)
In the DASA Scheme, the Non- CIWG Quota is meant for DASA candidates who are not eligible to apply under the CIWG Quota. The fees paid by such students is higher than that of CIWG category students.
The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) was founded in 1950 by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, independent India's first Education Minister. Its objectives are to actively participate in the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes on India's external cultural relations. In every academic year, ICCR holds about 6000 + international students from countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan, SriLanka, Nepal, Congo, Afghanistan and Maldives who are studying at various Central/States University, Institutes, NITs and Agricultural Institutions etc.
In the survey conducted by Monday Morning, 40.4% of respondents were from ICCR, 36.5% from DASA (CIWG) and 23,1% from DASA (Non-CIWG) admission scheme.
The Problems Faced by International Students
Starting from a change in curriculum to change in food and lifestyle, the problems faced by international students through their life at NITR are many. We asked our respondents about the difficulties they faced as an international student both in academics as well as in campus life at NIT Rourkela.
In the first poll (related to academics), a whopping 82.7% of students felt that there was a knowledge barrier which led to difficulty in coping up with the academics at NIT Rourkela starting from the first year itself. Coming from different countries and not preparing for JEE exams leads to the fact that a lot of international students complete their high school in a completely different academic curriculum than that of their Indian counterparts. And when classes start, most professors tend to start from where high school left off according to the Indian curriculum. This is where the problem begins. The international students are most often just catching up with the curriculum with very few mechanisms that exist to bridge the gap.
A majority, 69.2% of respondents felt that the accent barrier was a factor which led to more struggle for them in their academic life. Indian accent of English is very different from that followed in Africa, America, the Middle East and even other south-east Asian countries. Imagine going to a college where professors teach in an accent you have never heard before, not being able to comprehend is one of the many concerns that will arise. Many international students have to face the accent barrier starting from their first day in the class itself. Lack of confidence in communication with both peers and professors are examples of other problems which are caused because of this barrier.
48.1%of the respondents felt that there was a language barrier between them and the professors which led to an academic struggle. Although all professors teach in English, the once in a while Hindi/ Odia examples that everyone makes might be the reason why almost half of the respondents felt that language was a barrier. The language barrier is more prominent in peers because most students converse in their native languages, leaving very little room for international students to join in. This lack of communication can also be counted as one of the reasons for their academic struggle.
In the next question, we asked international students about the problems they faced apart from academics in their campus life at NIT Rourkela. Two significant issues took the limelight in this poll, first being stereotyping of international students and second being adjusting to the food.
Stereotyping of foreign students
67.3% of respondents felt there is a stereotype of international students existent on campus, and it difficult for them to break the bubble. The stereotype majorly takes two forms, one is the academic stereotype, and the other is the cultural stereotype. The first one arose because of the relatively poor performance of international students in academics. But instead of tackling the issue, the stereotype multiplies it by decreasing their self-confidence. The second one, i.e. Cultural stereotype, arose because of the proficiency and accent of English that these students use. This stereotype often leads to cultural segregation leading to even worse social isolation.
Adjusting to the food provided in the mess
67.3% of respondents faced problems because the food provided in their respective mess. Coming from a different cultural background, adjusting to Indian food is often very daunting, especially in the initial days for international students at NIT Rourkela. Most of the international student are not used to not only the cuisine but also the spices used in Indian cuisine. This leads to them often eating outside, which increases the financial burden on them even further.
The International Students Opinion
Once the problems are identified, the next set of questions were directed towards knowing how well are these problems addressed. The first question that we asked was about whether problems faced by international students are addressed properly at NIT Rourkela.
A clear majority of 80.8% of our respondents felt that their problems were not being addressed properly at NIT Rourkela, and merely 19.2% felt otherwise.
The next question we asked was regarding the representation of international students. Yet again, a clear majority of 90.4% of our respondents felt that the representation from international students needed to be improved to ensure that the issues faced by them are directed to the right officials and their problems are resolved.
But, will representation alone solve the issue? The next question we asked was regarding the treatment of international students by professors. A clear majority of 69.2% of our respondents felt that professors treated them differently when they know that they are an international student. It is, in fact, desirable for professors to treat international students differently but only to understand and help them solve their problems in a better way. The role of professors is pivotal in not only helping them academically but also removing the stereotype.
Apart from the above set of questions, we asked our respondents if they had some suggestions/ observations that they wanted to be addressed.
Raksha Karkera, a DASA student, had the following suggestion related to academics,
First-year is definitely a struggle, we ended up doing subjects that were never needed for the upcoming three years. Since the first year is a stomping ground for most to score high CGs it’s quite the opposite for a Dasa student. Owing to this a lot of times applications to highly competitive internships and MS university applications are deterred. It would be beneficial if the first-year courses could be tailored to branch-specific subjects to build a strong foundation for the remainder of the engineering discipline.
Rithik Devendran, a DASA student, had the following complaint regarding the professors he encountered:
Professors do not help foreign students. Since most of us haven't come through JEE and we have been facing basic issues in academics from 1st year.
A DASA student who wanted to remain anonymous had the following harsh observations regarding his experience with professors at the institute:
The problem is with the professors and their PHDs. There are many professors who respond well if you speak in their mother tongue (and if they are Odia). Same for their TAs. Students from DASA seem to already have some kind of “bad impression” so they wouldn’t listen to what we have to say. They are already under impression that we are rich kids, who don’t care about studies.
Bereket Getnet, an ICCR student, had the following observation regarding the food provided in a mess:
Not only adjusting but the way they cook the food is not as proper and clean as we are used to. Most of them are not using cap and related things to maintain basic hygiene.
Ayushi Pradhan, another DASA student, had the following observation which highlights the cultural difference that international students face when they come to this institute:
The number of western-style toilets in our hostels are close to nil. We (foreign students) are not well accustomed to using Indian style toilets that are the only options here; some of us haven’t even seen or used it ever in our life. This problem causes a lot of discomfort among foreign, NRI and Josaa students alike.
Mohammad Haroon Sahibzada, an ICCR student, was one amongst many who expressed displeasure at the current academic rules. According to him:
Low CGPA should not cause termination, especially for foreign students, the rules should be modified to specially designed slow pace.
Vivek prasad Dalbehera, a DASA student, had the following suggestion for solving the issues faced by international students:
An option for foreign students to themselves elect a representative for each year who will be in direct contact with the higher authorities.
Manish Kumar Singh, a DASA student, gave the following suggestion:
The work and problems in academics for foreign students related to documents, fee processes and academic problems, in general, can be given a separate supervisor who could prioritize and understand the problems we face.
Role of The Institute Counseling Services
Amidst all the problems, there always exists a coping mechanism; in our case, it is the ICS. But this works appropriately only when the people are aware of it. According to the survey, we found out that 73.1% of all the respondents are aware of the measures taken by the ICS.
Khalid Baig, guide of international students from ICS says,
Sliding into college life right after school life isn't easy for anybody. However, for international students, it is harsher, because not only do they have to settle in a completely foreign environment but also get used to a vastly different education system from that of their home countries. This also instils in them a fear of failure as well as a negative stigma towards their life here. Now, ICS recognises these primary hurdles that every international student has to clear to make his/her in NITR easier.
Let us have a look at all the steps extended by them for the international students:
Coming from a completely different educational background, it becomes quite tough to withstand the curriculum taught in NITs. Many times it becomes difficult for the international students to interact with the teachers and get their doubts cleared. Hence, for them to cope up with the outline of semesters, ICS came up with Bridge Classes where they teach some essential basic concepts from scratch to help them grasp what goes on in the classes.
Khalid on bridge classes,
We also organise special remedial classes called bridge classes for them. Here, the tutor is selected as such that he/she along with having great in-depth knowledge on the subject also has great communication skills and fundamental understanding of the basics, so that they can pass on the curriculum articulately.
ICS conducts regular meetings with all the international students from time to time to address their primary issues and guide them on how to make a smooth transition from their life before college to the life lived in NITRkl on which Khalid says,
At first, we greeted them all separately. This was done on the day of orientation. After the orientation, Aalisha(another guide to foreign students) and I had addressed all the foreign students and their queries. We also assured them that they do not need to fear failure and all the hurdles can be overcome. This helped the overwhelmed students to be at ease.
he further added,
They were all assigned mentors. Adding to that, Aalisha and I have always been the points of contact with these students. We have been approached with many personal as well as academic issues in the first couple of months. We had another meeting with all the foreign students pertaining to academics where some of the foreign seniors who had done really well in their respective fields addressed them, to motivate them into knowing that they are capable of it too.
Although the measures implemented ICS seems helpful, there still exist some loopholes and room for improvement as per our survey, around 61.5% of our respondents feel that the bridge classes have not been utilised properly.
It is clear that ICS has been clear support to all the international students in dealing with emotional, academic, or any other sensitive issues. However, it still needs to reach out to a large mass which feels that these measures aren't as productive as they should be.
Through the survey conducted, we have tried to spread our reach to every possible problem an international student faces during his/her stay in the college. Adjusting and adapting take time and effort, and it needs a lot of assistance from different stakeholders. Hence, there surely is a need to focus on the challenges faced by international students and provide adequate support for them which is tailored specifically for them. The cultural shock and language barriers are inevitable, but it is our responsibility, as a student community to ensure that these students have to face lesser problems.
Team MM hopes that the plight of the international students will be given due attention, the administration and the student community as a whole will help them to cope with things in a better way.