Tuesday, October 11, 2016

International Student Integration in the Academic Culture of Group Work

The following is a guest post by Katie Ray:

Collaborator. Communicator. Leader. Team player – all nouns with positive connotations that identify an individual adept in the arena of group work. Group work – on the other hand – doesn’t always yield an immediate positive response.  Of course, group work can be rewarding – and of course, we all know that more can be accomplished together than alone.

However, at some point during the course of your academic or professional career, you have most certainly been in those groups where you questioned this mantra. Where you felt that you took it upon yourself to produce some deliverable with little to zero support from your so-called, teammates. With this in mind, the process of learning how to facilitate, moderate and contribute in a group work scenario takes practice. It is difficult – for everyone. It’s difficult for young and experienced professionals – and it’s difficult for students – both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

As international educators, we must remember that everyone includes international students.

During the 2014-2015 academic year, 974,926 international students studied in the U.S. (Institute for International Education). These 974,926 students bring their perspectives, experiences, knowledge and questions to the U.S. classroom – a classroom with an academic culture that may appear very different than that of their home countries. An academic culture that can often – rely heavily on discussion, participation, and – you guessed it – group work.

We all know that in order to maximize the benefits of having international students on campus, institutions must ensure that systems are in place to enable the social and academic success of this population. Thus, how can we ensure our international students are prepared to enter this new academic culture, and not only engage in it, but also thrive?

This post highlights a tangible experiential learning activity that my team has found useful when leading international student orientations for specific graduate student populations within a business education context. This activity – referred to as “Zoom” – is based on the picture book Zoom by Istvan Banyai. When completing the activity, each student receives one of the pictures depicted in Banyai’s book (see Image 1 below depicting a sample of pictures from the book). Students have the goal of using various forms of communication strategies to arrange the sequence of pictures in the correct order. 

As you may have guessed by the title, together, the images depict a story, which becomes increasingly more complex as the viewer’s perspective narrows. The activity aims to assist students in developing learning strategies involved in successful group work – as many of the curricular objectives within our school revolve around successful collaboration within teams of cultural, social and professional diversity.

Image 1 (photo by K. Ray): 

The activity has proven an invaluable follow-up to discussion on the U.S. classroom environment – and how that environment can differ from one’s home academic culture, as well as the variety of academic success strategies international students have found useful in the past. Additionally, the activity provides clear evidence to students that individualistic and collectivist cultural tendencies can impact approaches to group work and leadership styles – both of which are extraordinarily relevant to any student – especially to a student studying business. 

As practitioners within the field of international higher education, we often do not directly teach or facilitate coursework for our international students. However via orientation and co-curricular programming efforts, we certainly contribute to their success both academically and socially. “Zoom” provides a simple example regarding how practitioners can expose students to new educational styles, and equip them with foundational experiences and learning strategies – which they can continuously draw on in future academic environments.


Banyai, I. (1995). Zoom. New York: Viking.

Institute for International Education. (2015). Open Doors -- Fast Facts: International students in the U.S.
Questions? Contact Katie Ray:

Twitter: kt_ray

Katie Ray is the International Student Liaison at the George Washington University School of Business where she serves as the first point of contact for the school’s international student population, on a team of comprehensive internationalization. Additionally, she has worked in the arenas international alumni relations and development, and secondary high school exchange. Her research interests explore how institutions can better integrate international students socially, academically and professionally, and how that engagement translates to alumni affinity. She is currently an M.A. candidate in the International Education program at GW’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development.

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