International students expect and value the opportunity to make friends with other students, but are rarely satisfied with their integration with UK peers.
Sheffield Hallam University, like many other universities in the UK, has put in considerable investment in developing and promoting extracurricular activities to encourage UK/international student integration. But while we notice steady improvement in the student satisfaction with their experience of integration, we are still lagging behind other institutions.
This prompted us to undertake an impact evaluation of our social integration work, and investigate further international students’ expectations and experiences of meeting and integrating with UK and other international students. The research involved an online survey sent to all international students and two focus groups run by an external moderator.
The findings from this study unsurprisingly showed that international students wanted to meet and make friends with other international and UK students, but had found integrating with UK students more difficult than expected for a number of reasons. The most interesting finding from the research however shows that international students are happy with the level of support they get to integrate socially, but are dissatisfied with the integration at course level – all students who took part in the research expected they would study alongside UK peers on their course. It is the mismatch from this expectation and the reality of studying in predominantly international (sometimes monocultural) courses that leads to their greatest dissatisfaction. Delivering to this expectation will mean we have to provide a multicultural learning experience to all students, not just international.