Supporting International Student Success


Figure 1. Where UNC Charlotte students come from

Image Source: International Student & Scholar Office, UNC Charlotte, 2023

The broadening globalization of learning environments in recent decades has drawn students from all over the world to the University of North Carolina Charlotte, which is home to thousands of students from over 100 different countries!

Increasingly diverse student populations in any given class have provided new learning opportunities and enabled deeper exploration of ideas and perspectives; however, this has also required taking new perspectives on teaching and more intentionality in ensuring that all students are supported and have an impactful experience.

International students bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the classroom, but they also face unique challenges that require different approaches to support them effectively. The purpose of this teaching guide is to highlight some of these challenges and to provide strategies for effectively addressing them.

Some of the challenges international students may face include:

  1. Differences in perspectives on academic culture, including holding different expectations for course flow or procedures, or different understandings of the roles and obligations of instructors or students. These differences in perspective and understanding often show up with regard to course assignments and plagiarism prevention.

Teaching strategies for addressing this challenge include:

  • Be careful to articulate expectations in the course syllabus and assignments. Using the Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT) framework is a great way to accomplish this.
  • Allow for rough drafts to be submitted via SimCheck so that there is an opportunity for students to identify, learn about, and correct possible plagiarism before submitting a final draft.
  • Use activities that quantify participation, such as Poll Everywhere. Also, consider using a participation rubric to set expectations and provide feedback on performance throughout the course.
  1. Differences in cultural communication, including norms for the directness of language. In the United States, language is typically more direct than in many other languages, which can influence participation in class and interaction with others in assignments or discussions. Direct conversation may be difficult or uncomfortable for students.

Teaching strategies for addressing this challenge include:

  • One way to help with this, at least in written assignments, is to encourage students to engage with the Writing Resources Center. The tutors and resources at the Writing Resource Center can help international students better understand the writing styles and nuances of communication required for success.
  1. International students often have unique community needs which benefit from support.

Teaching strategies for addressing this challenge include:

  • Faculty can also support students in connecting with each other. Some ways to support this connection include:
    • Making the “People” category visible in your Canvas course. This allows students to see one another’s emails and connect on their own.
    • Create an informal discussion board so students can have free discussion. Think of this board as a “coffee shop” where students can post questions and connect around topics of interest.
    • Share upcoming events or activities that students might be interested in.
    • Center for Graduate Life and International Student & Scholar Office each have great events calendars to share!
  • Faculty can support international students by providing information about options to connect with campus departments. Some examples include:
  1. Learning in a second language, including nuances in communication and clarity of materials and assignments.

Teaching strategies for addressing this challenge include:

  • Design activities, assignments, and assessments so they capture a variety of communication skills, such as verbal and written engagement. This helps ensure that students can show their best work, and that assessments aren’t overly punitive toward one type of communication.
  • Provide ample time to process questions, and consider offering these questions in multiple formats. Providing at least 10 seconds to verbally respond to questions in face-to-face classes is important. Consider watching a clock to ensure sufficient time is allotted.
  • It takes time to work through the intimidation of public verbal participation using a second language, and international students may need more time to feel comfortable verbally engaging in class dialogue. Check in with students outside of class to provide support and gauge their learning in class.
  1. Online Learning Environments can also pose challenges, particularly to students who may not be in the United States while completing the course. Challenges such as blocked websites, familiarity with technology, or being in a different time zone can pose unique challenges to international students.

Teaching strategies for addressing this challenge include:

  • For blocked websites (eg. Google), unstable internet connections, or government monitoring, you might provide additional time for responses to email and extend quiz times.
  • For low bandwidth or unstable internet, consider avoiding:
    • Live chat, or consider allowing students to leave their cameras off,
    • Assignments with large file sizes or bandwidth requirements (such as video and media based assignments, downloading large files or large numbers of files, and so on.
  • To support challenges with technical unfamiliarity, provide clear links to help and support resources, including Canvas Support, IT Service Desk, and other training resources.
  • To support students working in different time zones, know that students may be active during different times than the rest of the class. Consider providing additional time for communications such as email, and extending deadlines to accommodate a broader range of submission times.

International students face a variety of challenges beyond what is covered in this teaching guide, but for these and other challenges, faculty can have a significant impact through awareness, empathy, and support. For more information on this topic, we suggest reading through some of the reference resources below.


Cornell University. (n.d.). Teaching international students: Tips for online instruction.

Cox, M. (2020, April 1). Guidance for faculty: Getting & staying connected with int’l students. Cornell University.

Firang, D. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on international students in Canada. International Social Work, 63(3), 820 – 824.

Inside Higher Ed. (2020). Protecting vulnerable students during the pandemic.

Latitude(s). (2020, October 12). Teaching international students remotely.

Medeiros, D. (2021). Teaching International Students: Considerations for Both Online and In-Person Instruction. [Unpublished Document]. International Student and Scholar Office, University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

Redden, E. (2019, May 31). International student well-being. Inside Higher Ed.