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Advising International Students

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Overview of issues surrounding advising International students

East Meets West - Bridging the Academic Advising Divide
Authored By: Barbara J. Lamont

A walk across most American campuses reveals the new faces of cultural diversity within higher education. Priest and McPhee (2000) contend that many American colleges and universities now make concerted efforts to recruit students from differing cultural backgrounds. Upcraft and Stephens (2000) concur and indicate that these changes, occurring over the last forty years, have impacted the dynamics of the campus environment (p. 73). Unfortunately, Priest and McPhee's research (2000) found that although international students are actively recruited - indeed enticed - to study in America, agencies and institutions sometimes fail to study the long-term implications of their efforts. The result is that these students may find themselves on the doorsteps of institutions ill-equipped to handle their special needs.

This new fabric of multiculturalism poses some very real challenges nationwide not only for the higher education community as a whole, but, individually, for academic advisors. Clearly, students with diverse cultural backgrounds benefit from advising initiatives tailored specifically to their needs. Therefore, if one embraces Priest and McPhee's 'contention that it is the responsibility of the academic advisor to develop, in conjunction with the student, relevant interventions that make graduation for ethnic minority students a reality,' (p. 115) then that connection must be forged from the student's first campus advising encounter. Advisors have the ethical responsibility to use every resource at their disposal to make this all important link with the student. Although many American colleges and universities are implementing global initiatives, it is often advisors' grass-roots efforts that make a difference to these students. It is imperative that advisors take their guidance from George Henderson (1994) who advises that 'understanding and accepting another person's cultural reality are the beginnings of a helping relationship' (p. 51).

I taught English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to Japanese students when I lived overseas and now advise a diverse population that includes students from Japan. In my experience, the most helpful essay to understand this student population is Diane Oliver's 'Improving Services for International Students by Understanding Differences Between Japanese and United States Culture and Educational Systems.' Oliver imparts fundamental strategies to assist academic advisors, including: differences between the Japanese and U. S. educational systems; complexities of cross-cultural communications; and universal concepts in adolescent development. She suggests that advisors 'can increase their effectiveness by taking a more holistic view of international students' needs' (p. 22). Even with my extensive experience, I sometimes forget that the student on the other side of the desk may have an entirely different world view.

The Japanese student comes from a culture wrapped in traditions that have spanned centuries and still dictates society's values and norms. So, while Americans may prefer an approach that embraces individuality and encourages independence, citizens of Japan are much more comfortable in a group in which 'harmony and unity' prevail at all times (Oliver, p. 23). Japanese students' high school experiences are at polar opposites from their American counterparts. Johnson and Johnson (1996) emphasize that Japanese students attend school 240 days each year and that roughly '60% of the students attend supplemental lessons in both non-academic and academic areas' (p. 4). Competition for places in the Japanese high school is fierce, and students regularly attend 'cram' schools, called yobiko, to secure a place at university. For those of us who advise freshmen, it is particularly noteworthy that in Japanese society a student's professional future rests not only on the high school attended but on the examination results that determine the matriculation university.

When assisting Japanese students with their academic goals, it is imperative that advisors understand how Japanese students' socialization patterns impact their cross-cultural experiences. For example, Oliver points out that Japanese students, whether from Tokyo or the farming regions of rural Hokkaido, are products of a society that values education and fosters an environment 'centered on effort, group activities, and peer control' (p. 24). In fact, effort rather than ability, is the earmark of a system that embraces learning as a process. If one sees advising as teaching, then the advisor/advisee relationship can make a significant impact on the lives and academic aspirations of our Japanese students.

The complexities of cross-cultural communication are real. Advisors, whether new or veteran, must be cognizant of the biases, attitudes, and values they bring to the advisor/advisee relationship. 'A crucial aspect of advisor knowledge,' Priest and McPhee write, 'is the extent to which advisors are able to understand advisees rather than attempt to force them into an over-generalized advising paradigm' (p. 112). Apart from different terminology and procedures, the language barrier, in itself, can be a frustrating hurdle for both advisor and advisee. This may be no more apparent than when advising students from Japan. Polite and respectful, students in this population defer to authority figures and are apt appear to be listening and learning from an advisor. These students may even sign documentation in the appropriate places. Still, they can leave offices frustrated and confused because real communication did not take place.

Oliver contributes a key observation that 'Japanese students find the flexibility and numerous choices offered in the U. S. system of higher education extremely confusing' (p. 29). This is often in direct opposition to American expectations. If advisors are to adopt a developmental advising approach applicable to all students, then culture specific information is an essential element of effective cross-cultural communication. Brown and Rivas (1994) suggest that 'as part of a development advising continuum, the prescriptive advising relationship is relevant and appropriate for many students of color' (p. 108). Although a prescriptive technique may be appropriate for Japanese students, it behooves advisors to temper their approach. Brown and Rivas caution that academic advisors should embrace an authoritative rather than an authoritarian demeanor for both verbal and non-verbal communication (p. 110).

Cultural differences, when coupled with the normal adolescent issues such as those noted by Oliver (p. 22), may further inhibit these students' education journey. Priest and McPhee (2000) assert that foreign students, just like their American counterparts, suffer from feelings of homesickness and alienation (p. 113). Advisors should understand the importance of the Japanese family, particularly the mother, in making education decisions for their children. As advisors we often help students embrace autonomy and discourage intrusive parental involvement. However, there are instances when we must be sensitive to cultural differences.

Habley (1994) noted that 'academic advising is the only structured service on the campus in which all students have the opportunity for on-going, one-to-one contact with a concerned representative of the institution' (p. 10). As such, it is important, from both an ethical and professional perspective, that academic advisors forge this essential link with our multicultural students, including those from Japan. Japanese students strongly value - and depend upon -- the relationship between themselves and their academic advisor; they want and need adult intervention. If East is to meet West in academic advising, then America 's academic advisors must embrace, 'a global interest that shows respect for other nations, societies, and people' (Oliver, p. 27).

Barbara J. Lamont
Assoc Dir - Colleges' Freshman Adv Cntr
The University of Texas-San Antonio


Brown, Thomas and Rivas, Mario. (Fall 1994) The Prescriptive Relationship in Academic Advising as an Approved Developmental Intervention with Multicultural Populations. NACADA Journal 14.2 (Fall 1994): 108-110.

Habley, W. R. (1994).Key Concepts in Academic Advising. In Summer Institute on Academic Advising Session Guide (p.10).  Available from the National Academic Advising Association, State University, Manhattan, KS.

Henderson, George. (1994). Social Work Interventions - Helping People of Color.Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Johnson, Marcia L. & Johnson, Jeffrey R. (October 1996). Daily Life in Japanese High Schools. Japan Digest. Bloomington, IN: National Clearinghouse for U.S. and Japan Studies. Retrieved 07/08/05 from

Oliver, Diane E. (1999). Improving Services for International Students by Understanding Differences Between Japanese and Culture and Educational Systems. NACADA Journal, 18(1): 22-27.

Priest, Ronnie, & McPhee, Sidney A. (2000). Advising Multicultural Students: The Reality of Diversity. In V.N. Gordon, W.R. Habley & associates (Eds.). Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook (pp. 105-115). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Upcraft, M. Lee & Stephens, Pamela S. (2000). Academic Advising and Today's Changing Students. In V.N. Gordon, W.R. Habley & Associates (Eds.), Academic advising: A comprehensive handbook (pp. 73-82. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cite this using APA style as:

Lamont, Barbara J. (2005). East meets west - Bridging the academic advising divide.Retrieved -insert today's date- from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website:

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