Studying and academic settings. In this regard international students,

            Studying in the U.S. has been a
major attraction for students from all over the world thanks to its excellence in
academic education and for leading the world in cutting-edge research. For
instance, in 2014 America ranked first worldwide in terms of hosting the
highest number of international students (The Guardian, 2014). The number of
international students has been rising exponentially since the 1970s; the
percentage of international students in the U.S. student population increased
from less than 1% in 1974-1975 to almost 5% in 2014-2015 with almost 1 million
international students (Zong & Batalova, 2016.). These students bring a
wealth of cultural and academic experiences and diversity to their new host environment
and academic settings. In this regard international students, in particular
English as a Second Language (ESL) learners, often experience multiple
difficulties preventing them from adapting to the academic and social settings
of their new environment. This could to a large extent affect their academic
success and their college experience satisfaction. This paper presents a
literature review regarding the factors and the reasons behind ESL students
experiencing difficulties in adapting to the academic and cultural settings of
the United States. The paper also provides implications and policy recommendations
to ease ESL students and international students in general transition to the
U.S system and to ensure increased adjustment to the new host culture and

Factors Affecting ESL Students
Adjustment to the American System

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Poor Integration in the Local
Community Due to Lack of Friendship with Americans

Studying in
the United States as an English as a Second Language learner can be a rewarding
experience because it allows students to pursue advanced academic degrees while
having the opportunity to improve their English language and communication
skills (Gaines, 2015). In this regard, poor integration in the local community
presents a serious hurdle for ESL learners to achieve academic success, higher
levels of satisfaction, and take full advantage of their American college
experience (Gaines, 2015).

            A study by Glass,
Gomez, and Urzua (2014) investigated the effect of recreational involvement and
the effect of building intercultural friendships on international students’
American college experience and adaptation to the system. In this context, the
article lists three major determinant constraints for social adaptation for international
students. Leisure constraints identified in the article include the
intrapersonal, interpersonal, and structural constraints. Interpersonal
constraints mainly address the interaction constraints between the
international students and the local community such as lack of language
fluency.  Intrapersonal constraints on
the other hand present the social barriers for getting involved manifested by
differences in culture, religion, norms, and rules. Lastly, structural
constraints are the other obstacles that prevent students from getting involved
in leisure activities such as being constantly busy with academic work and lack
of time. The study concluded that interpersonal and intrapersonal constraints
were significant obstacles for students to participate in leisure activities.

This is substantiated through unsatisfactory adjustment in both the social and
academic settings. Structural constraints were not found to be as significant as
interpersonal and intrapersonal factors indicating that socio-cultural and
language barriers present the major obstacles for international students’
adaptation to the new system. The study also found that European students had
less interpersonal and intrapersonal constraints as compared to
Easter/Southeaster Asia, Southern Asia, and Middle East /North Africa

            Not developing
friendships with local native residents appears a salient contributing factor
for not having a smooth and successful integration in the system. A study by
Gareis, Merkin, and Goldman (2011), confirms what other studies concluded
regarding the fact that higher exposure to the host culture and language is
dependent on intercultural friendship development. Higher exposure to the host
culture is accomplished through building friendships and increased interaction
with the local residents. This is critical for having a sense of satisfaction
and building favorable views toward the host country. The study lays stress on the
role of higher academic institutions in serving as laboratories for intercultural
communication that spurs interactions between local and international students.

This is for the interest of creating a favorable environment for academic
excellence for both international and American students (Gareis, Merkin, &
Goldman, 2011).

National Origin and System

            A study by Gareis
(2012) investigated the effect of home and host region on developing
friendships for international students with Americans through surveys carried
on a pool of 454 international students in the United States. The study
determined that almost 40% of respondents had no American friends and are
generally unhappy with the number and quality of their friendships. This
conclusion, however, varies notably based on students ‘national origin. In
fact, the study emphasizes that cultural similarity plays an instrumental role
in this matter. In fact, cultural similarity between individuals allows easier
initial contact and deeper bonding between the individuals thus eases the
process of friendship development. This is supported in the study thought the
low documented friendships involvement for East Asians with Americans. In
particular Chinese students and to a lesser degree Indian students reported
difficulties having friends as compared to their European counterparts. Poor
language skills and cultural differences present the social barriers discussed
earlier. Students participating in the study elucidated that this is mainly due
to their lack of language proficiency, lack of time to socialize, as well as
cultural differences, while others indicated that Americans in their host
community did not manifest interest in engaging in friendships. One issue
described in the study is that many international students for the most part tend
to spend the majority of their time being in company with co-nationals. In this
regard, the study reveals that international students with less contact with fellow
co-nationals are likely to experience increased social adaptation.

            According to Tomich,
McWhirter, and Darcy (2003), international students face numerous challenges in
adapting to the American system which could come with high costs on the
students’ college experience. The challenges include: language proficiency,
personality, host culture attitude, cultural similarity, age, and length of
residence in the U.S. The study concluded that European students manifested
much greater inclination toward adjusting with the host culture as compared to
their Asian counterparts.

Having a strong
command of language and especially verbal communication skills plays a prime
role; lack of language skills often makes students feel uncomfortable to
communicate in social and academic settings. Language plays an important factor
in this regard. American student life lays special emphasis on verbal
communication and given the fact that European language share linguistic
similarities with English allowing them to be more fluent and confident when
communicating in English, results as expected show that Europeans are more likely
to develop friendships with U.S. nationals as compared to their Asian
counterparts. (Tomich, McWhirter, & Darcy, 2003).

anticipated, the study also revealed that cultural similarity and personality described
by openness and resilience have significant effects on adaption. For instance,
Asian students struggled to adapt to the lifestyle in the U.S relative to their
European counterparts. This is explained by the discrepancy in the overlapping
of cultural values between European-American and Asian-American cultures. On
the other hand, the study brings into discussion the effect of the target
culture receptiveness toward these new students. Prejudice spurred by
differences in culture, skin color can largely influence the quality and level
of interaction and integration.

            A similar study by
Zhao, Kuh, and Carini (2015) investigated student involvement for international
students in activities that promote academic and personal growth and college
experience satisfaction. The study determined that first-year international
students on average often avoid engaging in verbal communication and would
prefer using technology for communication mainly because of lacking language
proficiency and lack of familiarity with the  cultural and social codes. However, by the
time international students reach their final year, they become much more
comfortable to socialize and get engaged in social activities. Therefore,
according to this study most students are likely to adapt with the system
however this process may take a long time thus prohibiting students from making
maximal benefiting from their experience. The study also indicated that high
presence of international student could lead students to feel that their campus
is not as supportive. This may be explained by the fact that increased
interaction with co-nationals or people with similar cultures results in lower
interaction with the host country nationals. (Gareis, 2012)

Difficulties Associated with ESL

            A study by Ajayi (2008)
evaluated the challenges associated with ESL instruction provided to junior and
high school ESL students in California. The study determined that while
instructors exhibit high level of awareness of the students’ cultural and lived
experiences, instructors encounter multiple pedagogical and institutional
challenges. School ESL instructors are bound by local and state policies
limiting their selection of course textbooks to only the official ones which
often do not incorporate the diversity of lingual and cultural experiences of
the ESL students. Another issue, is the huge disparity of English proficiency
of students within the same ESL class. Students are assigned to courses is done
regardless of variables such English usage, students experience in settings
other than academic, interests…etc. The article also discusses discrepancies
between students in terms of familiarity with the American culture such as movies,
T.V. programs which indicating the value of getting ESL students especially
newer ones to be familiarized with the U.S. culture. 

Recommendations and Lessons for a
Smoother Adjustment for ESL Students

            This section mainly addresses
potential implications and recommendations brought from literature regarding
increasing ESL students and international students in general adaptation to the
U.S system. The study Glass, Gomez, Urzua (2014) recommends that U.S. colleges
should redesign their curricular and extracurricular programs to encourage the
participation of international students among American students. This is for
the interest of assisting student integrate the system. This is also supported by a study by
Kovtun (2011) conducted a piloted a new course for international students in a
U.S. university designed to improve student’s understanding of the American
college education system, study habits, communication skills, cultural
diversity, creating relationships, confidence, and time management skills. This
class was added with the intention that it will ease students’ transition to
the American education system, adaptation to the differences in culture and
norms. The study revealed that this course has helped students develop skills
related needed for academic success and social adjustment to the new
environment. This is demonstrated through improved awareness of diversity in
the U.S. and increased interaction with host-national students. The study
suggests that university offering international students with similar content courses
is essential to promote international students’ involvement in activities and
academic success. In particular, the article argues that the academic setting
should assists students in developing these skills and should not be left for
students to develop on their own. This is because failure to develop these
skills will hinder students’ psychological development, adaptation and academic
success. In addition, general education curriculums should be part of
first-year classes. Another study by Glass (2011) revealed that students who
engage in leadership programs, and exhibit increased interaction with people
with students from different backgrounds are likely to experience higher
academic and social satisfaction. The study lays importance on the need for university
leaders including professors to design courses and activities in a way that
promotes interaction between the diverse constituents and course that
discussing cultures and diverse the racial denominations would advance
international student academic success and social satisfaction.

            On another level, the article
by Tomich, McWhirter, and Darcy (2003) recommends that mentoring, counseling,
orientation materials and other programs should incorporate in their design
these differences in cultural and language backgrounds in order to facilitate student’s
adaptation and to promote openness and resilience for students.


            A common theme that reappeared
throughout these articles was the difficulties of forging strong relationships.

ESL students that are able to form friendships and other social bonds enjoy a
marked improvement in linguistic and cultural skills, while those that cannot
languish in isolation or within their international groups. Thus, a program
that focuses exclusively on classroom instruction for language learning will
yield lackluster results. Implementing policies that strike a balance between
the schooling and the social lives of ESL students may improve learning and
integration rates.

            In general, literature review
revealed that ESL and international students often experience difficulties in
integrating into their new academic and social settings. These obstacles often
lower students’ satisfaction in the social context in addition to hindering
their academic success. Socio-cultural constraints represented by the
differences in cultures, norms, poor language skills often prohibit ESL
students’ adaptation to the culture and academic success. Unfamiliarity with
the local culture and disparity in English proficiency in ESL classes are also
one of the issues related to ESL instruction. On another level, adaptation is
discrepant based on the national region. European students, for instance, are
more likely to experience satisfaction as compared to students from other
regions in the world. Furthermore, studies revealed that higher interaction
with co-nationals results in decreased interaction with locals thus inhibiting
students’ integration in the system. Recommendations to improve ESL and
international students’ adaption mainly address the need for academic institutions
policy makers to redesign their curricular and extracurricular programs to
promote participation of international students on campus. First-year course
contents, in particular, should promote understanding of diversity and
encourage interaction between the international and host-country students.

            Another improvement based on my
personal observation could be accomplished through the expansion of student
exchange programs. Exchange programs are fairly common at the high school level
and college levels in the United States. ESL students from foreign countries
are integrated into a host family for a semester or a year, effectively
becoming a temporary family member. Not only does this allow for greater
linguistic immersion opportunities, but may also create a window of opportunity
for new cultural experiences. Being situated with a host family also prevents
exchange students from reverting back to their native language after school
hours, creating a constant immersion environment for the student. By expanding
existing programs within the United States, the intrapersonal barriers ESL
students face could be significantly diminished. Such student exchange
programs, though common at the high school level, are often not seen at the
elementary school or college levels, and expansion into these educational
levels could act as a good starting point. 


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