Would you prefer to have an advisor who could speak your native language? Rustam Niyazov takes a look at the positive and negative effects of native language use from international student advisors.
At the NAFSA Region X & XI bi-regional conference held on October 28-30, 2014 in Albany, NY, there were over 60 sessions available to attend, including a session titled “How “Double Tongue” Works: First Language Usage of Foreign-Born International Educators in Student Advising” whose presenters, foreign-born international educators (FBIEs) themselves, focused on the positive and negative effects of native language usage by international student advisors.
Elena Korepanova, Bentley University, Reiko Morris, The Fletcher-School, Tufts University, Richard Yam, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, surveyed FBIEs asking about their linguistic and professional background, first and second language usage in advising and daily work, and their perspectives and opinions on how their international students feel about first language usage by their advisors in an advising setting.
They also surveyed international students focusing on their perspectives and opinions as international students regarding having/not having student advisors who speak the same first language as they do.
They defined FBIE’s as international educators who were born outside of the U.S. and currently living and/or working in the country as International Student/Scholar Advisor, International Admissions, Study Abroad Advisor, Academic Advisor, or Faculty/Teacher. And international students as students who are currently studying full-time in the U.S. with F-1 or J-1 visa status.
46 FBIEs (22 languages among the 45 of 46) and 147 international students (at Bentley, Fletcher/Tufts, UMass-Amherst) responded to multiple-choice and open-ended questions.
So what is their survey data indicating?
Most of FBIEs do speak in their first language at work when advising students and most of those who speak in first language said the reason they do so is “due to student’s low English proficiency,” especially when they need to explain “immigration issues.”
Some other reasons FBIEs use their first language are due to natural inclination to speak your language when someone speaks on that language, and because it helps to “connect with students,” and that it helps to “build a better relationship” with them.
However, some advisors (33%) said they speak only English because English is their preferred language to speak to anyone. Also because they “don’t want to put others who don’t speak the same language feel awkward.”
More than half of students said that they would like to have an advisor who speaks the same first language as they do. Yet, English language usage is the least challenging matter for them. The U.S. immigration regulation information in their first language is the most helpful, and the reason why they wish to have the advisor who speaks the same first language.
In addition, students rated the following difficulties/challenges as an international student in the U.S. Most challenging are the U.S. immigration and regulation rules, cost of living in the U.S., as well as homesickness. The least challenging are English language, getting foods from home country, and different social hierarchy/value than home country/culture.
As for the most important things, students indicated having Career Service Offices with a lot of experience in international student employment issues, having diverse student body and international student from different countries, having a student advisor/faculty who have overseas living experience.
The least important was having international student advisor whose first language is the same one as theirs. Also, 62% of the respondents are saying that they would not really care whether they had a non-English speaker as their advisor, that it is not a significant issue in their academic life in the U.S, and that non-U.S. born advisor can relate better to the cultural and other challenges of adjusting to the life in the U.S. and dealing with the U.S. bureaucracy from the viewpoint of a foreigner.
As for the best practices in dealing with these kind of situations, Korepanova, Morris and Yam suggest that international advisors: ask students preferences, set personal criteria, know your limitations and think about how to be resourceful, and learning more about your international student population.