The situation between international students and international teachers

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Each year, students and teachers seek opportunities to participate in international education. Despite the opportunities and advantages that come alongside these opportunities, learning at the international level elicits numerous problems between teachers and students (Kucirkova et al., 2017, p. 18). According to Cushner and Chang (2015, p. 166), most of these challenges are associated with culture and therefore require intercultural communication to help minimize cultural impacts on both parties. The aspect of culture brings about issues for both teachers and students. Previous research has focused on the problems afflicting international teachers and students. Although most scholars have focused on the social problems faced by students when pursuing higher education at international levels, Nilson (2016, p. 21) opines that most of the issues often lead to problems between apprentices and instructors. One of the most significant problems for teachers and students at this level emanates from cultural backgrounds and its impact on communication abilities. However, Bovill, Jordan and Watters (2015, p. 13) opine that problems affecting these two parties can be explained in terms of language barriers and culture shock. Facilitation of in-depth understanding concerning problems between apprentices and teachers at the international level requires the application of theoretical models that have something to do with intercultural communication (Kucirkova et al., 2017, p. 19).

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As Cogan and Derricott (2014, p. 48) observe, theoretical models, are important when carrying out this particular investigation because they can assist in solving conflicts and problems. As such, theoretical models such as the Communication accommodation theory, “entreculturas” model, co-cultural communication theory, and convergence theory (Niemi, Toom & Kallioniemi, 2016, p. 34) can provide the required principles for solving problems between international teachers and students. Proper application of such theoretical models is useful in aiding the design of recommendations that can act as foundations upon which teachers and students can avoid and solve problems in international learning environments. This paper investigates the situation between international students and international teachers, establishes the problems and suitable intercultural communication models to help solve the problems, and finally provides recommendations to solve identified issues.


Problems between international teachers and students

The identity crisis

Although studies have focused on the ‘identity crises’ from the perspective of international students, it is important to note that this crisis affects teachers as well. According to Howard (2016, p. 31), events or elements that affect teachers and students point towards the existence of problems between the two parties. Moreover, Ovando and Combs (2018, p. 62) argue that the crisis of identity takes place in international students from all lifestyles forcing them into a state of confusion concerning identity. This means that international students are likely to face a situation whereby they are not sure of people with whom they are supposed to identify in their new environments. This confusion takes place as international students try to go through a cultural transformation and successfully transition between cultures (Wu, Garza & Guzman, 2015, p. 11). Further, Berger and Paul (2017, p. 298) argue that the identity crisis is not a guarantee as far as students are concerned because only those that are caught between a new culture and their old one are likely to have issues with identity.

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The most significant aspect of the identity crisis is that it also affects international teachers. Despite being trained to deal with cultural diversity, teachers often find themselves tempted to identify with some cultures and negate association or attachment to others leading to a situation where international teachers have problems with international students from cultures they are not willing to identify with (Wu, Garza & Guzman, 2015, p. 11).

According to Knight (2015, p. 110), this introduces an identity problem that plaques relationships between teachers and students in international learning institutions. Although numerous scholars have argued that international teachers are unlikely to have identity issues based on the cultural origins of their international apprentices, current studies suggest that teachers being human are subject to attributes such as language barriers. Since culture often encompasses the language aspect, international teachers find it more appealing and comfortable to establish relationships with students with whose culture and language they can relate. Consequently, international students from cultures and languages that are not associated with their teacher’s background find it strange to try to establish working relationships with international teachers that already have a language and cultural preference (Sleeter & Carmona, 2016, p. 71). Ultimately, both international teachers and students develop a mindset that draws them closer to teachers that can relate to their backgrounds.

Language barrier

According to Wright, Smith and Freyd (2017, p. 53), language barriers represent the most significant of problems as far as the relationship between teachers and students in international learning environments is concerned. It is, however, important to note that this problem emanates from cultural differences that present practical, professional, and individual challenges. These challenges affect both international teachers and students since language problems are directly apparent. Moreover, Flood, Heath and Lapp (2015, p. 48) argue that this problem is a two-edged sword’ because international students are often unable to have a full understanding of teachers, instructions and teachers have problems communicating the same to international students. This is a major problem especially when it comes to the students since their participation in classroom discussions is attached to language limitations from their side and that of the instructors. However, Penbek, Yurdakul Şahin and Cerit (2012, p. 234) argue that the problem may have a more negative impact on the professors because their professional drive urges them to establish communication, but they are unable to do so. Further, studies indicate that this is a major problem because effective learning encompasses the capacity of professors to understand their students’ needs as well as the ability of the students to express their needs in a manner that is understandable. Jackson (2012, p. 51) introduces this problem from a different perspective arguing that language barriers are likely to increase workload burdens for international students eventually leading to problems with instructors. For example, whereas American students can complete assignments in English in less than one hour, it can take up to three hours for international students coming from regions like Asia and China.

Previous experiences and achievements

For both international teachers and international students, previous experiences and achievements present a serious problem in international learning environments (Piller, 2011, p. 27). However, numerous studies have focused on such aspects from the perspective of international students and have ignored the fact that international teachers have a background too. In the case of international students, more than 80% of them come from academic backgrounds in which they thrived as academic stars (Nguyen, 2011, p. 20). On the other hand, Campbell (2012, p. 208) observes that approximately 67% of teachers that receive opportunities in international schools also come from backgrounds in which they enjoyed a certain level of superiority and privileges over other instructors. As is the case with every international institution of higher learning, both parties meet the kinds of challenges they would not have expected in their native environments. As a result, depression and emotional turmoil often take a toll on both international teachers and students. More than 54% of international students have to deal with depression whereas almost 42% of international teachers end up being replaced because of their inability to cope with teaching challenges (Su, 2016, p. 390). These statistics may not make much sense unless they are considered in terms of their role in eliciting problems for the teachers and students. The influence of depression for both parties affects the quality of teaching and receptivity. This is because a problem is generated whereby the mental states of each cannot allow for effective communication and learning. Moreover, depression and psychological upsets are one of the leading causes of friction between international teachers and international students (Nguyen, 2011, p. 12).

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Applicable intercultural communication models

Cultural convergence theory

One of the models suitable for helping international teachers and international students solve their problems and conflicts is the cultural convergence model (Piller, 2011, p. 29). Jackson (2012, p. 41) describes cultural convergence as a necessity driven by globalization that seeks to enhance communication between and among cultures through the reduction of interpersonal differences. As such, this model can prove helpful because it can be relied upon to create contusive atmospheres in which international teachers and apprentices cooperate and communicate effectively despite diversity in terms of culture. It is important to note that most of the problems faced by teachers and students at the international level of education emanate from the inability to communicate in the course of learning and teaching experiences (Sleeter & Carmona, 2016, p. 50). However, this model works best when the parties involved take upon themselves the responsibility to seek information concerning as many diverse cultures as possible. This means that the problems between international students and their teachers can be solved if individuals from both sides of the divide make efforts to research as much as possible concerning cultures represented in the international environment. When this happens, then neither the teachers nor the students will have to experience the identity crisis. According to Berger and Paul (2017, p. 300), the major source of this crisis is the ignorance of international teachers and students that leave them void of knowledge and incapable of handling diverse cultural schools of thought.

Co-cultural communication theory

This model embarks to bring to common light aspects between and among cultural members of groups based on their functionality levels within a dominant society while simultaneously taking into consideration their diverse experiences (Wu, Garza & Guzman, 2015, p. 9). More importantly, the theory encompasses inductive studies into cultural group’s non-dominant communiqué stratagems as well as the factors that influence such groups to communicate in particular ways. Consequently, this model is highly applicable in helping solve problems between international teachers and students because it can help both parties deal with language barrier issues. This is because by identifying particular non-dominant stratagems used for communication by other cultural group’s teachers and students from other backgrounds can tailor their communication styles and efforts to appeal to these non-dominant strategies (Niemi, Toom & Kallioniemi, 2016, p. 38). Eventually, this makes it possible for the two parties to find common relational grounds.

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Communication accommodation theory

As suggested by Cogan and Derricott (2014, p. 38), this model best suits to deal with the problems of identity crisis and challenges emanating from the international milieu. Notably, this model is all about making behavioural alterations to align ones’ communication styles to those of another party. This means that the approach provides a way for helping avoid language barriers, minimize the influence of previous environments, and reduce the occurrence of the identity crisis for both teachers and international students. The behavioural adjustments towards better communication mean that the parties involved will not have to worry about fitting into the new environment thus reducing identity crisis possibilities (Nguyen, 2011, p. 23). Additionally, the fact that the model suggests these adjustments means that students and teachers will be able to share their previous successes minimizing the possibility of depression. Moreover, language barriers will have minimal impact in light of this model because it enhances communication by advocating behavioural changes that accommodate people from diverse backgrounds.

Future recommendations

Neither the teachers nor students arrive at international schools outside of their home countries without notification. It is therefore highly recommended that these two parties take sufficient time to research about diversity and even specific cultures from which they expect to meet new people. According to Jackson (2012, p. 36), more than 80% of problems that recur between international teachers and students have taken precedence because only 13% of the teachers and students bother to investigate what to expect in their new environments. Therefore, taking up this responsibility will prepare these parties and minimize the impact of language barriers and the identity crisis. Additionally, it is recommendable that orientation program for new international teachers and students incorporate as much information as is possible concerning expected challenges and heightened competition levels. This recommendation should prove helpful in avoiding depression among both teachers and students. Additionally, it is recommendable that international institutions incorporate a program to prepare both students and teachers in a way that they will be able to deal with being outshined. This will help avoid the occurrences of depression that is often a major cause of relational problems between international teachers and students.

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This paper investigated the situation between international students and international teachers, established the problems and suitable intercultural communication models to help solve the problems, and finally provided recommendations to solve identified issues. Problems between these two parties have been identified as the identity crisis, language barrier, and previous experiences and achievements. The issue of identity crisis affects both teachers and students as they try to establish a relevant cultural group with which to identify. Although previous studies have neglected to address this problem from the perspective of international teachers, they as well as the students have to undergo transition and connect with people from similar language and culture. The language barrier problem on the other hand as is the case with the previous issue draws from cultural differences. However, the problem goes further to encapsulate practical profession difficulties and individual challenges. Due to this problem, teachers and students in international learning institutions experience communication problems. When the problem takes a toll, both parties often experience relational problems because international students have problems in classroom discussions and completion of assignments. The study has also established that previous experiences and achievements in home countries for international teachers and students compound into another major problem. This is because teachers and students have reigned supreme in their home countries to qualify for international schools. It is also important to note that both parties experience depression because of being unable to measure up to challenges they encounter in international learning environments.

Based on these problems, the applicable intercultural communication models that can provide solutions are cultural convergence, co-cultural communication, and the communication accommodation theories. The theory on the convergence of culture can help solve these problems by minimizing the weight and influence of interpersonal differences between and among both teachers and students. On the other hand, the model represented by the co-cultural communication theory can be an effective way of dealing with the identified problems because it seeks to identify common aspects between both teachers and students within the international setting. Finding relational grounds as suggested in this model is necessary for solving the problems. The communication accommodation theory is best suited to solve the conflicts and problems because it emphasizes the need for behaviour change. Therefore, it is recommended that both international teachers and students acquire information on the different cultures they expect to meet in international schools. Further, international institutions should provide sufficient orientation so that the problems will be avoided in future. On a balance of academic opinions, the current situation between international students and teachers can be solved by paying attention to cultural diversity and working to improve communication between the two parties.

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  1. Berger, R. and Paul, M.S., 2017. Teaching cultural aspects of trauma practice in a study abroad immersion course: Challenges and strategies. International Social Work60(2), pp.297-306.
  2. Bovill, C., Jordan, L. and Watters, N., 2015. Transnational approaches to teaching and learning in higher education: challenges and possible guiding principles. Teaching in Higher Education20(1), pp.12-23.
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